Atiq & EnK: Fear of the Unknown
Tympanik Audio

Zinovia: The Gift of Affliction
Tympanik Audio

Change or die—such words apply to record labels as much as they do anything else. Tympanik Audio appears to have taken such words to heart, if two of its latest releases are any indication. Certainly the album by Atiq & EnK (Dutch sound designers Guido Van Den Brink and Pim Arnoldus) expands upon the label's dark electronica style, while the debut set by Zinovia (Athens-born Zinovia Arvanitidi) certainly does so even more dramatically.

Atiq & EnK's release blurs the lines between genres so smoothly it's hard to label an album track one thing only. Suffice it to say that a given piece might include sounds associated with dubstep, hip-hop, classical, and electronica, and the album title thus can be read as a comment on the music-making of less adventurous peers and their tendency to, as the song says, “stay with the familiar.” The eleven-track collection ranges widely, from a pretty, Music Box-styled vignette (“The Glass Kingdom”) to an MC-driven throwdown (“The Moment of Truth”), and the result is a compelling and engrossing tapestry that impresses for the high quality of its sound design and compositions; at thirty-nine minutes, it's concise, too. For the record, aspects of Atiq & EnK's sound can be traced to what the members were doing prior to Fear of the Unknown's realization, with Arnoldus working in a metal context before moving on to electronic music and Van Den Brink overseeing his own Mindtrick Records label and roster artists such as Mobthrow, Semiomime, and Tangent.

The aforementioned “Stay with the Familiar” opens the album strongly with a heavy, strings-laden pulse that writhes with lethal force, its scathing dress-down communicated via voiceover and within a synth-heavy field of gothic dramatics. Having set forth their own code of fearlessness by implication, Atiq & EnK then move through a series of largely brooding mood settings. One is struck by the sophistication of “Moonlit Tea Party” and its melding of orchestral strings and electronic sounds, and “Slow Clouds” and its like-minded fusion of symphonic elements and bass-rattling dubstep. The classical side also figures prominently in “Like An Angel's Feather” when a choir's vocalizing makes the aggressive track feel like a collaboration between Dmitri Shostakovich and the Dutch duo. By contrast, Atiq & EnK's electronic side comes through more conspicuously on synth-heavy tracks like “Three Minutes” and “Shards of Brilliance.”Just as Fear of the Unknown begins powerfully, so too does it end with an MC turn by Mike Redman on “The Moment of Truth.” If his delivery doesn't have quite the venomous bite someone like Eminem would have brought to the track, it nonetheless makes for a memorable close to a fine collection.

As stated, Zinovia's The Gift of Affliction travels even farther afield of the dark electronica style promoted by Tympanik Audio in its earlier releases. While it's her debut solo release, it's not her first recorded appearance; that distinction falls to Vanishing Mirror, a collaborative album with fellow Athens-based composer Hior Chronik under the moniker Pill-Oh released on Kitchen. in 2012. A preternaturally mature outing for a debut, The Gift of Affliction is characterized by classically tinged meditations of potent atmospheric and sometimes exotic design dominated by elegant piano melodies, synthesizers, strings, and an occasional wordless vocal. The classically trained Arvanitidi brings a thoroughly developed formal background in composing and recording techniques to the Zinovia project, all of which is clearly evident in the album's nine settings, though never self-indulgently so.

The combination of melodica and piano lends the album's opening piece “The Blue Shade of Dawn Covered Your Skin” a melancholy and Eastern European feel, but that's hardly the only thing it's got going for it. The piece is a carefully calibrated exercise in moodsculpting that sees Arvanitidi expertly weaving piano and bass melodies into hypnotic formation against a quietly droning backdrop of electronic haze. The melodica re-appears in “Communicating Vessels,” this time adding to the tune's film noir-like tone, and, clearly one of her favoured sounds, surfaces in other pieces, too.

The album's at its loveliest and most emotionally direct during the heartfelt piano-heavy setting “Attached, Our Eyes Wide Open,” while “Entangled” offers a prime example of her skills as a sound designer with subtle percussive details and beats forming a dubby undercurrent for a sometimes jazz-inflected stream. In fact, a piece like “Entangled” suggests Zinovia's natural live performance setting would be less an electronic festival than a small and intimate European nightclub where the lights are low and the air filled with romance and intrigue. Given its atmospheric bent, The Gift of Affliction makes a strong case for Arvanitidi's future as a soundtrack composer, and there are moments of beauty on the album that are startling.

October 2013