Penalune: Less Of The Same

Less Of The Same presumably means that one can expect to hear something unfamiliar from Christopher Ernst's debut album under the Penalune name. In that regard, the album lives up to its billing, as its brand of electroacoustic bewitchery isn't the kind of thing commonly heard. It's a trippy affair whose eight pieces sometimes recall the disorienting paths trod by Coil and other intrepid chemical explorers. Ernst uses field recordings captured in Brooklyn and upstate New York in conjunction with piano, violin, alto sax, electric guitar, and vocals to bring his nightmarish visions into being.

The contrasting sides of Penalune's persona seem to be on display from the very beginning, when the normally bucolic sounds of water babble and bird chirps are shattered by the repeated punctuation of gunshot-like fire during “Volver.” An ominous and slightly sickly melodic pattern darkens the mood further, suggesting that Less Of The Same could function particularly well as the soundtrack to some Twin Peaks-styled murder mystery. The appearance of plaintive piano playing adds to the melodramatic feel, and late-inning smears of static grime nudge the piece into electroacoustic territory. Penalune's wide-ranging material guides the listener through multiple disturbing zones, where one encounters, for example, such sounds as diseased horn sounds bleeding across the hallucination “Mind Versus Matter,” the groans of some humungous creature rising and falling throughout “Stage One,” and cavernous rumble and the dissonant careen of blurred stabs flirting with dementia in “Life On Midgard.”

Despite the oft-oppressive and claustrophobic character of the material, Ernst brings a restrained hand to the project, with many of the pieces using a modest number of elements to communicate their haunted contents. Two examples of that include “Eavesdropping On Mount Olympus,” which allocates much of its nine minutes to the anguished moan of choral voices, and “Train Stare,” which likewise limits its sound palette to a wavering synthesizer line and muffled voices. The album's a verifiably diseased affair but in the best sense of the word, and the album, a sixty-eight nightmare transcribed into malignant aural form, makes good on the promise of its title.

March 2011