Sicker Man: The Subtle Life
Blank Records

Blankmusic: Afterglow
Blank Records

Tobias Vethake (aka Sicker Man) conjures disturbed sound worlds on The Subtle Life, eight hallucinatory incantations haunted by electronic rumbles, bowed cellos, whispered voices, guitar noise, and primitive drum clatter. Within these wheezing doomscapes, Vethake becomes the disturbed voice whispering in your ear, urging you towards acts of irrevocable desperation. Getting a handle on his sound proves difficult since it refuses to settle into a singular, coherent style, though one might regard that elusive quality as part of its appeal. He's as liable to root a song in conventional blues-folk structures and instrumentation as he is screeching dissonance, even more likely to mix them all together, upsetting the listener's state of balance. Like the off-kilter songs themselves, puzzling titles (“Get Up At Cellphone,” “Legally Fell Like”) disorient too. Though Vethake's sound inclines towards funereal dirges (“I Am Yours”), a more lyrical and gentle ambiance emerges in “Goodbye Foes,” offering a welcome contrast to the largely dour mood while an appealingly restrained vibe characterizes “Legally Fell Like” too. Here Vethake's breathy voice gently floats over shakers, high-pitched synths, and subtle breaks, though the energy level and volume grows in its closing moments into a hazy mass of anguished yelps.

Blankmusic isn't so much a group as it is an umbrella label for a modest number of Blank Records-related outfits—Fotomaton, Mini Pops Junior, Vincent, and Vethake again—though the eleven-minute “The Matter of Impuls” is credited to the collective Blank Music. With Vethake contributing to every song, the collection feels like a natural sibling to his solo release, and again song titles like “Haunted Road” and “Closer To Nowhere” signify as much. Vethake's haunted “Lament of Departure” carries on from The Subtle Life with a gloomy setting of bowed string scrapes, and the road ahead doesn't get much brighter. “Waiting Seems Poisoned to Me” depicts a dramatic night scene, “So Sigh and Fry” alternates between mournfulness and dread, and deep rumbles escalate into nightmarish buzzing during “Inside That Bottle.” Occasional traces of light penetrate the darkness in “Sparkle My Friend,” a ponderous moodscape of soft glissandi and pulsations. Not only in length but in dramatic reach, the disc's pièce de résistance is the masterfully realized meditation “The Matter of Impuls” wherein a haunted melodica drifts over ruined industrial wastelands, while Doppler shifts woozily mark the distance traveled. Uneasy listening to be sure.

April 2006