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Barbara Lüneburg

Richard A Ingram: Happy Hour
White Box Recordings

In naming his latest album Happy Hour, Richard A. Ingram's clearly not without a sense of humour: the Manchester-based musician's follow-up to last year's debut album, Consolamentum, epitomizes gloomscaping of the most uncompromising kind, with nary a trace of sunlight penetrating a single moment of the album's four long-form excursions. Which isn't to say, of course, that the album doesn't reward one's attention, as it most certainly does. It's not, however, the kind of recording one would recommend be given to depressed or suicidal types, as it certainly won't do much to alleviate said conditions.

Though the four pieces, which range from ten to fifteen minutes, are presented as separate tracks and are stylistically different in certain respects, the album nevertheless engenders a uniform impression. An overall degraded and diseased character shadows the material, and the listener is made to feel as if he/she is stepping into a particularly bleak landscape upon entering the album's world. “Agile Drone” begins with foggy atmospherics suggestive of enveloping mist spreading across spectral terrain, before mutating into a crepuscular drone that Ingram peppers with synthetic swells, percussive noise, and field recordings. Just as the piece seems about to expire, a throbbing bass pulse enters, beefing up the attack with an additional dose of dread-filled ambiance. A recurring piano motif lends “Truncheon Tree” a more stable and conventional structural form than the opening piece, though here too Ingram gradually subverts such normalcy with the gradual accretion of corroded noise textures that during one episode bury the piano sample altogether under their cumulative density. As we near the end of the piece, the motif vanishes completely, leaving in its wake gaseous smears and percussive shudders. Such moodscaping nicely sets the stage for “Chaos Fortifier,” which seemingly guides the listener on a tour of Hades. Over the course of thirteen minutes, faint echoes of musical fragments and other real-world sounds distantly resound alongside persistent ripples of hiss, rumble, crackle, and combustion that permeate the track's cavernous space and ever-so-slowly swell in magnitude. In the closing “Retro Morph,” muffled tones intone quietly, intermittently disappearing from view when thick, lava-like textures hiss and crackle forcefully. As the piece slows to an entropic crawl, a weary and exhausted quality asserts itself, as if the strain of the undertaking has left it spent, its energy depleted. As the recording comes to a sublunar end, it feels like it's being slowly sucked into a black hole with all trace of its having existed erased.

It must needs be said that track-by-track descriptions hardly do justice to the wealth of textural detail that's in play throughout Happy Hour, as Ingram manipulates his originating sound sources (field recordings, piano, and organ among them) into nightmarish disturbances that verge on unidentifiable. It's an immersive listen that to be fully appreciated should be heard at loud volume so that one can fully surrender to its pull and be drawn into its black universe.

August 2011