Re:: Alms

On Alms, Re: (Ian Ilavsky, musical contributor to label acts Sofa, Sackville, and A Silver Mt. Zion, and partner Aden Evans) pursues an experimental and often extreme style of soundscaping that seldom flirts with anything so familiar as a melody, although there are occasional exceptions. The relative absence of conventional musical tropes doesn't mean, though, that the group approaches compositional matters indifferently as the pieces may sound spontaneous but evidence thorough planning in their construction and sequencing. Resourcefully deploying all manner of source materials to generate rhythms and loops, the duo creates an intense dystopic portrait of a polluted civilization that commingles the organic with the industrial, the human with the electrical, radioactive, and technological.

All of which might suggest that Alms is one depressing listen but rest assured it's not. It is, however, disturbing and unsettling, yet also, in its way, musical. The fundamental nature-technology tension running throughout is symbolized by the materials the group uses to generate its sounds: metallic objects, industrial noise, and field recordings coupled with piano, organ, synths, and drums. Often a piece resembles a pure collage until elements settle into a discernible rhythm pattern or a drumbeat will emerge to anchor the noises swirling around it. “Golem,” for example, might begin with scraping noises (perhaps suggesting the trudging sounds of the Jewish folklore figure) but Re: then constructs a percussion rhythm of drums and spooky cymbal rattles to stabilize the industrial ambience and scrunching static noises that rise to a crescendo. Even more extreme is “Orientalism As A Humanism” where a drum beat surfaces amidst a contorting cacophony of lumbering noise. “On Golden Pond,” with its panoply of tumbling noises, creaking doors, and laughing voices, occupies the structurally looser collage end of the spectrum.

Alms is leavened by some quieter moments. In “Lasers, Tracers, Radar Drones,” crystalline drones gradually cede to a sparkling weave of organ tones and chimes, while “Pawk,” the most conventionally musical piece on the album, features ruminative piano playing amidst whistles, bird calls, and animal yelps. The album hardly ends in a state of becalmed ambiance, though, as the throbbing “Home Security” makes abundantly clear. Like some war zone evocation, percussive clatter forms a ritualistic tribal-funk rhythm while brutal shards of metallic noises grind above it. The piece pounds relentlessly forward until an industrial rhythm pattern is all that remains.

Anyone struggling to make connections between the album title (alms = money, food, or other donations given to the poor or needy) and its content might keep in mind that the group's debut Mnant can be read (Re)mnant, suggesting the second should be read (Re)alms, an arguably more sensible notion given the expansive stylistic and dynamic territory its challenging music traverses. Whether invoking mythological mutations like the Golem or the imminent emergence of cyborgian personae, Re: aurally conjures a society where humanity is a paradise lost obliterated by present-day entrapment and technological noise.

October 2004