Though SND, the duo of Mat Steel and Mark Fell, have produced increasingly difficult music over the past fifteen or so years, they haven’t abandoned perceptible beat structures. 2009’s Atavism is an unforgiving, brittle beast of an album, but it frequently paid heed to the pleasures of hits on 2 and 4, even if only to frustrate by later mutating the grooves. With Multistability and UL8, Fell adds levels of abstraction. The focus is still on rhythm, but nothing coalesces, or at least not in typically satisfying ways.
Indeed, this is the entire point of Multistability. Fell describes the album as containing “passages [that] reappear throughout, yet…are applied and maneuvered into parallel versions of themselves,” with non-resolution a goal. Doesn’t sound like fun, but it’s a much warmer album than Atavism, and several moments absolutely stun in how they capture the anticipation that precedes the next repetition. Think of the album as highlighting the suspension before the roller coaster car drops. It’s a refreshing antidote to the woozy, off-centered beats of folks like Flying Lotus, Teebs, or Blue Daisy. I like those folks, but Fell makes it seem like they’re scoring easy points.
UL8, on the other hand, might be the most challenging music Fell has created. In place of Multistability‘s satisfying interlocked patterns are random static sputterings. Its rules are far from clear; Fell is operating in the company of pure experimenters like Florian Hecker or Phillip Werren, rather than Raster-Noton’s concept and context junkies. The album is divided into three lengthy parts: “The Occultation of 3C 273,” which sounds like SND, but completely devoid of structure; “Vortex Studies,” comprised of minute, piercing sonic pitch variations balanced out by dull, random bass hits; and “Acids in the Style of Rian Treanor,” which is basically a more squelched-out Part I.
Fell also tacks on an extra track called “Death of a Loved One” that incorporates actual synth-string harmonies, over which he throws some more sputtering squelches. It’s interesting insofar as it’s divorced from Fell’s typical sonic and rhythmic precision, which also makes it a total non-sequitur from a guy who does not do non-sequiturs. However, if you listen, as I did, to UL8 right after Multistability, such a break after more than two hours of precision isn’t unwelcome.