Rarely has an album been more truthfully named. While both members of EKG play acoustic instruments (Ernst Karel, trumpet; Kyle Bruckmann, double reeds), their presence on this record is negligible. Analogue electronics, mainly modular synthesizers so hirsute with cables that they look like a Rogaine success story, dominate the sound. Immune to the lure of such effete affectations as keyboards, EKG manage their gear the old-fashioned way; by twisting knobs, flipping switches, yanking patch cords in and out, and sometimes using their own fingers as conductors between cables and instruments.
The resulting music sounds, to borrow a phrase from Bruckmann’s occasional collaborator Gino Robair, like voltage made audible. Electricals’ five tracks are composed mainly of highly tactile low end hums, feedback tendrils, static blasts, and motor buzzes that are deployed with a palpable sense of contour within a dynamic range that goes from loud and in your face to distant and small. But the fact that Bruckmann and Karel bring their horns at all speaks to an essential EKG quality, a perpetual state of being in between things. At the end of “Drift,” a series of lonely brass cries seem to issue not from Karel’s trumpet, but from the collective unconscious, they’re so rich with wordless meaning. Moments later, at the beginning of the aptly named “Current,” EKG speak in the more dominant electrical tongues, generating malevolently vibrating tones that end in loud microphone bumps.
EKG also shuttle between composition and improvisation. While everything they play is spontaneously generated, they’re not averse to consciously revisiting material in concert. Electricals was assembled from different concerts and rehearsal recordings, some made miles and years apart; the music isn’t just played, it’s constructed in a way that yields the best of two approaches. Each track sports the carefully graduated interaction and promise of potential instant change that total improvisation provides, but develops with the inevitability that hindsight affords. Each hum, shimmer, and bump yields to another in a way that feels absolutely necessary.