Oberman Knocks: 13th Smallest

Oberman Knocks inaugurates Andrea Parker's Aperture with an album that definitely lives up to the label's stated aim—to issue convention-breaking, experimental releases based around concepts, soundscapes, and mystery—because 13th Smallest is almost unlike anything I've heard before. The material on the ten-track debut album from Sheffield-born and Walworth, South London-based Nigel Truswell (initially known under the names Alkin Engineering and WG Machines) rolls forth like some mutant, skyscraper-tall behemoth that indifferently lays waste to whatever lies in its path. Working from the ground up, Truswell typically establishes a crushing bottom end of convulsive rhythms and then builds layer upon layer of industrial noise and voice fragments until a hallucinatory swarm results. Buried within the density, faint traces of hip-hop and funk rhythms may be glimpsed (Truswell reportedly has been influenced by both, as well as the music of Motown, Warp, Skam, and Ninja Tune) but they're so mangled in the tracks' final form they end up bearing little clear relationship to any kind of conventional rhythm structure.

Tracks such as “Bronic” and “Motor Sepple Freak” depict writhing snakes' nests of groaning industrial rhythms, pummeling noise, and garbled vocals. One could easily be convinced that Truswell used artillery fire and other war-related sounds as primary source material for “Holtzen Anger Mine” when the piece lurches over decimated ground like an indestructible tank. The album does start to sound slightly less bewildering by about the halfway mark as one becomes more acclimatized to its radically alien sound; even so, a pummeling workout like “Anterbine On Hote” might begin coherently enough but soon enough turns just as dizzying and disorienting as its precursors. Nevertheless, listen carefully and you'll discover that Truswell's doing on 13th Smallest something rather analogous to what Autechre did on Chiastic Slide, LP5, and EP7: twisting the listener's hearing inside out until what at first sounds bewildering eventually starts to seem almost visionary. (It's worth noting that it was Warp artists Mira Calix and Autechre's Sean Booth who first encouraged Truswell to start producing his own music.) Challenging? Yes. Worth the effort? Definitely.

February 2009