Thomas Ragsdale: Bait
If there's a key to unlocking Bait, it's that Thomas Ragsdale constitutes one-half of worriedaboutsatan, whose Even Temper was reviewed a few months back in these pages, as was the duo's earlier Gizeh release Arrivals in 2009. And while Bait isn't, obviously, a worriedaboutsatan release, it does exude some of the cryptic quality that infuses the group's productions.
The work the Manchester-based Ragsdale has done as part of worriedaboutsatan suggests he'd be a natural as a film composer, and sure enough Bait turns out to have originated as material he created for a UK thriller by Dominic Brunt (it's not the first time the two have worked together, as Ragsdale also created the music for Brunt's 2012 directorial debut Before Dawn). A key difference from the norm, however, is that Bait doesn't simply gather the bits Ragsdale produced for the film; instead, he re-examined the files he'd given to Brunt and then re-conceived the material as a forty-minute album in place of a soundtrack of atmospheric drones and vignettes. Specifically, Ragsdale wanted the music to work independently of the film as an effectively sequenced travelogue of shifting moods.
The recording clearly succeeds in that regard. Each of the thirteen short pieces flows into the next; the overall mood is generally subdued and overcast, a sense of doom encroaches, and startling ruptures are absent between the snapshots. Instrumentally, the focal points change from one vignette to the next, with some guitar-centered and others placing piano and/or electronics at the forefront. Following an entrancing intro of electric guitar and shimmering synth textures (“Who Holds The Devil, Hold Him Well”), we're presented with brooding piano-based settings (“Old Piano 1 (A Few Miles On),” “The Body's in the Back”), wintry dronescapes (“Bait,” “To Send You Off”), and a funereal moodscape lightly tinged with choral accents (“As the Rain Went on Falling”). Occasional hints of threat pierce the gloom, suggesting that danger lurks but a moment away. If there's an anomalous moment, it arrives during “When All Hell Breaks Loose” when a booming 4/4 pulse nudges the material in experimental techno's direction.
In keeping with the macabre nature of the film narrative, Bait, available in cassette (fifty copies) and digital formats, arrives in its physical form wrapped in PVC tape and accompanied by a mutilated photograph of a supposed victim plus card case wrapped in black lace. Though one doesn't doubt the contention that Ragsdale designed the recording to function as a stand-alone work, Bait nonetheless retains a strong soundtrack-like character in its emphasis on evocative moodsculpting. It requires little effort, for example, to imagine the windswept atmospherics in “The Dales” as a natural accompaniment to a widescreen pan of a dark, barren landscape.