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Imbogodom - The Metallic Year

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Artist: Imbogodom

Album: The Metallic Year

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Aug. 23, 2010

More like one, long piece with movements than a series of freestanding compositions, The Metallic Year traces a conversation between organic, instrument-based sounds and electronic manipulations, improvisation and tape manipulation. Often lovely, occasionally dark and foreboding, the album seems to encapsulate the tenor of post-terror times, a thread of worry running through even the most serene landscapes.

Of the two principals, Alexander Tucker, from the U.K, is best known for his guitar and string-based drone improvisations, elements of which make their way into pastoral tracks like “Unseen Ticket” (very much in line with Current 93’s most recent album) and woozier, more ominous rituals like “Of the Cloth.” Daniel Beban, from New Zealand, has a background in punk and noise, as well as sound collage and field recording. The two met at the BBC’s Bush House (memorialized in “Bvsh Hovse Ghost”), where Beban is a radio engineer, and began experimenting with old reel to reel tape recorders, instruments, dictaphones and voices.

The divide between making sounds and electronically shaping and editing them is unusually permeable in this disc. Imbogodom’s two composers took turns, one playing the sounds, the other mixing them simultaneously. As a consequence, not only could the sounds influence the mixing process, but the mixing influence the sounds, as either partner might react, on the fly, to what the other was doing. There’s a fluidity to the music, an easy dialogue between electronic and traditional elements. Some of the pieces seem almost figuratively to breathe.

The album begins in a relatively organic space, with recognizable instruments — piano, guitars, bowed string instruments — dominating early cuts like “Unseen Ticket,” “Of the Cloth” and “The Endless Body.” Electronic sounds flitter in and out of these tracks, provide ghostly backdrops and alter traditional sounds (the wordless vocals in “Of the Cloth” sound particularly spectral), but a subtle way. Electronic elements become more important, however, as the disc goes on, bubbling up through pretty, marimba-dotted “Indosoap,” and casting surreal shadows in abstract “Bvsh Hovse Ghost,” where soft-bowed violin sounds transmute mid-note into oscillating computer hums, and clamped guitar notes are scattered elliptically over space-machine hiss and drone.

Still, the most ominous and chilled moment on The Metallic Year is the one that most directly incorporates the human voice. “Report from Iron Mountain” builds tension around a distorted, hard-to-decipher speaking sample, which seems to be discussing security risks to New York City’s public transportation system. You hear scraps of worrying phrases — a plot to blow up the Path Train, threats to the financial district, 9/11 — as a chaotic mesh of background sound gradually overwhelms the voice. Human, recognizable, yet ultimately pulled under by a turbulent, mechanical tide of noise, the cut feels like the one moment on this disc where music is subsumed by electronic manipulation. It’s a fleeting passage. The piece fades into closer “Calibos,” which, like the album’s earlier tracks, finds serenity in pastoral bowed sounds and sustained synthetic washes.

“Report from Iron Mountain” is so startling, so different from the rest of the disc that, once you’ve heard it, the album seems to reshape itself around the track. Intervals of droning bow sounds, mysterious pings and burbles, runs of guitar and low, widely spaced piano notes all seem to lead up to this disturbing interval, and, after it, provide an interval of contemplation to absorb it. The threat of violence, the abrasion of rougher sounds is mostly held in check, not exactly absent, but implied even in the prettiest parts of The Metallic Year.

By Jennifer Kelly

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