Bitcrush: Epilogue in Waves

subtractiveLAD: Apparatus

This uninterrupted, fifty-four-minute travelogue by Bitcrush (aka n5MD head Mike Cadoo) certainly recalibrates any notion one might have had of n5MD as an “emotive electronica” label. Oh, the emotive dimension is definitely there—in spades—but the Bitcrush sound itself, even if electronically-rooted in production terms, is here reduced to a live guitar-bass-drums attack; the emphasis is on “natural” sounds, with even the enveloping synthesizers made to sound more like a church organ than your typical Moog. But the music hardly suffers from its stripped-down style, especially when Cadoo holds interest by alternating between peaceful episodes and anthemic guitar-heavy passages that suggest a fusion of shoegaze and post-rock. There's a narrative of sorts in play that concerns an eventual downward pull by undercurrents that leads to drowning, though indifference to it doesn't diminish the listening experience.

“Prologue” opens Epilogue In Waves with a hymnal meditation that paves the way for “An Island, a Penninsula” [sic] which intermittently explodes with the aggressive kick of shimmering guitars and live drumming. When echo bleeds off of the drums in “Of Days,” one recognizes that the production style should be regarded as an instrument in itself, so critical is it to the album's atmospheric character. “What Would Hope Be Without Disappointment” similarly entrances with its blend of chiming guitar choirs and epic ambiance. On “Of Days” and the title track, Cadoo's singing sounds good too, though he wisely incorporates it as one more instrumental texture rather than something placed in the forefront. Moving towards album's end, he imbues the sweeping title piece with orchestral grandeur while the penultimate “ Pearl ” escalates to a climax that towers in intensity over every one heard previously. The album title and “To Drown” clearly intimate an end to the Bitcrush project which, if true, would be a shame given the powerful evidence displayed throughout Cadoo's third full-length under the name.

Apparatus, Vancouverite Stephen Hummel's fourth subtractiveLAD release, is Epilogue in Waves' natural companion despite its slightly different sonic character. Apparatus sculpts symphonic ambiance by fusing guitars and analog synths fuse into lightning shoegaze streams; in contrast to Epilogue in Waves' focus on natural sounds, Apparatus weaves its instruments into stirring celestial masses. “Decay as a Lifestyle,” for instance, explodes into a fireworks display of shoegaze splendor, while “Alone (With You)” directs its shoegaze persona heavenward. subtractiveLAD does, however, share with Bitcrush an occasional penchant for hymnal atmosphere as exemplified by “Between Us” wherein melodies of church-like stateliness give way to nimble analogue synthesizer and dreamy guitar patterns augmented by live drumming. Hummel's music is also inclined towards melancholy: true to its title, “The Day Away” situates the listener within an enveloping and wistful space that's as transcendent in character as an epic Manual composition. Hummel's uncompromisingly experimental side is showcased too. We find ourselves in Cloudland Canyon territory when the fiercely psychedelic electrical storm of “Your Human Love” appears and flesh-melting guitars and white noise roar for a hot-wired eight minutes, while “Becoming Nothing” ventures into an ominous, even nightmarish drone zone. Throughout the hour-long set, subtractiveLAD's hazy ambiance and fluid textures blossom in ten tracks that are more typically celestial in character than overpoweringly aggressive.

April 2008