An underground scene seems to be thriving in Iran, despite the lack of international coverage. Porya Hatami‘s latest effort is an electronic beauty that sounds quiet and comforting when one is tired and active and energizing when one is awake. The album’s chameleon-like nature is an asset to multiple styles of listening. The effect is achieved through by blending two types of recording. Loops are responsible for the lulling nature of the presentation, while additional electronic sounds, some of which seems improvised (and thus unpredictable) are responsible for the energy. On the one hand, the album counters its name by being extremely stable, while on the other, it remains, as the artist writes, unstable. It’s the rare album that splays repetition without being repetitive.
The overall sound recalls Marcus Fischer and Pawn, two artists who love the crinkle effect: cracks and pops that sound like aluminum dots. These pointillist touches are applied to ambient washes like tiny brush touches to a canvas landscape. In three-dimensional terms, listening is like walking through a rain forest, attempting to distinguish the ongoing sounds from the immediate: the snap of a branch or sudden flutter of wings that may intimate danger. Unstable walks the line between benign and mysterious, never quite revealing its intentions. Field recordings, especially apparent on the closing title track, add to the sense of disorientation. On this piece the script is flipped: the loop is the unstable element, fading and returning while the electronics offer a strange stability. In the final minute, the entire sound field dips and rises until all is silent. The ups and downs feel like the last waves before the dock.
With five pieces flowing by in 31 minutes, the album’s only liability is its length. In light of the longer albums we’ve seen lately (including one clocking in at 32 hours), this is not necessarily a bad thing; it simply leaves the listener wanting more. The brief playing time does have the advantage of allowing the album to be heard as a whole, rather than as a series of separate pieces. Each entry has something to recommend it – the bell tones and winding tocks of “spoon”, the minor chords and rain rustles of “uncertain” – but Unstable works best in full immersion. The other asset of brevity is that a longer set would have taken more time to record, and we’re very happy to have these sounds to sift through right now. For more, check out Hatami’s previous release on Somehow Recordings, the similarly sublime Land. (Richard Allen)