Sparkwood Records

Earlier this year, we were thoroughly impressed by Mansfield Reformatory, an EP issued on the Norwegian label Sparkwood Records by Ohio-based Michael Iannone under the [MIIIIM] name, but if anything the full-length follow-up impresses even more. Not a whole lot of information about the material or Iannone accompanies the self-titled release aside from credits, the cryptic line “When everything is trash, make treasure,” and a paper insert that identifies a number of symbols as satanic (Prince's glyph and the McDonald's logo among them). But if the music must in this case speak for itself, it does so handily.

Iannone's penchant for long-form soundscaping was evidenced by the presence of a twenty-minute track on the EP, and it's evident here, too, with four of the eight settings in the nine- to eleven-minute range. He once again demonstrates a special talent for shaping myriad sounds, whether they be voice samples, electronic textures, or otherwise, into mesmerizing wholes. Eschewing presets, he creates intricate beat patterns from an array of noises, such that a definite rhythmic foundation declares itself within a setting yet does so in a way that feels fresh and new; in his world, it's perfectly normal for clicks, knocks, blips, smears, and tears to be used in place of the customary snare and kick drum. With that in place, he then addresses melodic issues by arranging voice snippets, vocal fragments, and musical figures into equally captivating sequences. By way of illustration, the rhythm pattern that initiates “Red Lair” uses an old rotary dial telephone as the primary sound source, which Iannone then overlays with mournful vocal ululations, synthesizers, and assorted other elements.

The longest setting, “Susurrousaria,” exudes an unsettling air of portent when a murmured “Walk with me” arises alongside the processed piano phrases and eerie sound design, while “Escape From Harm” accomplishes much the same via its own unsettling texts (“You are alone / Maybe I can help you...”) and cryptic noise flow. There are moments on the release that suggest [MIIIIM] and Boards of Canada could be regarded as distant cousins, what with the subtle psychedelic, even phantasmagoric, character of Iannone's constructions as well as the nostalgic tinge that's also sometimes present. But he parts company with the Warp duo in focusing less on concise song-like structures and more on abstract collages of ambitious design. The long-form pieces also grant him ample room to maneuver, such that a representative track such as “Brandish Arsenal / Acid Van” moves through multiple episodes, including a trippy, rhythm-based sequence in 7/4 and a vaguely Indian-styled coda, as its eleven minutes advance. The care with which the elements have been arranged and sequenced within a given construction genuinely impresses, so much so that one comes away from the recording thinking of Iannone as a soundsculptor of far greater distinction than many in his chosen field.

October 2015