Originally published in Delusions of Adequacy Oct. 29, 2004
There is an incredible number of sound-portraits and lyrical clips of found sounds on Alms, the second full-length player from the Constellation duo Re:, but there’s little in the way of “songs.” The record just doesn’t seem interested in them, even as fodder or fuel or foundation for further experimentation. That’s not to say Alms is one of those high-minded academic disasters where some brainy theory is writ large over the course of 80 long minutes, a mess of hypotheses only discernible to its well-intentioned creator. Re: is genuinely taken with sound and its possibilities and has crafted an audio document (to be played “as loud as possible”) that’s a feast for the ears.
For some, no doubt, it’ll take a few listens to soak it all in, and for some the whole album may feel like a puzzle not worth deconstructing or assembling. But the record, both in spite and because of its disregard for some of the lynchpins of independent “experimental” music, is an interesting spectacle, if only for the sonic moments and textured sound-narratives that members Aden Evens and Ian Ilavsky seem to construct without resorting to the tried and true.
Alms may be, more than anything you’ve heard in a good number of years, an industrial record — and I mean that more in the vein of rusted, abandoned factories than the familiar crack-whir-thud of an aspiring TVT Records ensemble.
In the old sense of the term “industrial,” Re: makes elements without any apparent or inherent musicality seem, well, musical. In “Golem,” it’s the rusty lurch of gears over a simple electronic measure and the dramatic tease of drum cymbals. In “On Golden Pond,” it’s the stuttering trot of what feels like a hand-cranked machine. In “Lasers, Tracers, Radar Drones,” it’s — somewhat literally — lasers, tracers, and radar drones. In “Radio Free Ramadi,” it’s the crackle and high-pitched whine of what could be a magnetic field, the sound your AM radio makes when its signal goes bumping and crashing into airborne interference.
The found sounds become so oddly musical that when Evens and Ilavsky introduce a clearly constructed or prepared moment, it all blends together. Take “Orientalism as a Humanism,” where drones and glitches fall prey to a bombastic electronic backbeat and then everything fades away to let a somber wail and moan, the distant cousin of an emergency siren on downers, step into the limelight. It’s hard to stress just how elegiac and effective that moan is and how much it sells the listener on the intentions of what surrounds it, even in its apparent lack of “song” structure.
Then there’s “the song” — dubbed “Pawk” — which may be, oddly enough, one of the most peculiar and unexpected moments herein. Following the drones and screeching of “Lasers, Tracers, Radar Drones,” it begins, a simple piano line hanging in silence, a repeating measure in all its Grubbsian glory. If pulled from Gastr del Sol�s Mirror Repair or Upgrade & Afterlife, the piece would feel like an intermission, a place-keeper. Here, accented at one point and another with what sound like animal-calls, the track feels monumental.
The record ends without returning to the song structures hinted at with “Pawk.” The closing track on Alms seems just as concerned with statements as with sound, so the listener gets a collection of textured white noise and endlessly looped industrial percussion called “Home Security.” It’s not a big climax or even the quiet resolve of a denouement, but, then again, Re: doesn’t seem interested in crafting a traditional song/story arc or making the ups or downs of its musical narratives too obvious. Re: is interested in sound. Its listeners should come to the table with open ears and a similar set of interests.