A while back we reviewed Insect Factory‘s Melodies from a Dead Radio, and now Baltimore’s Jeff Barsky has returned on a split C-80, sharing space with Brooklyn’s Luciernaga. The packaging is particularly nice: a reel-to-reel box that manages to come across as even more vintage than the cassette. As the last Fabrica release was on vinyl, it seems that the label and artists are trying to conquer all formats, a laudable but rare goal considering the present state of the industry.
Insect Factory’s work here is more subdued than on the former release; the rough edges have been sloughed to a fine ambience. With two pieces in 43 minutes, the artist takes his time to establish, then build upon, a pair of glowing bases. The opening track adds some beeps to the drone, introducing them gradually like the beginnings of a spring shower that never quite erupts into a thunderstorm. This springlike effect guides us gently into the album and makes us ask, “Is this really Insect Factory?” The answer is yes, of course; there are many different kinds of insects, and these are the nice ones that don’t buzz or bite. When the synths arrive, they take over the previously established patterns while the other instruments rest. Some wobbly effects arrive in the closing minutes to remind us that anything can happen. The second piece begins in darker fashion. Dark guitars chime at regular intervals like church bells. A metallic noise pings in the background like a cash register. Scattered notes fall as they did in the first track, joined by more active tinklings and more distorted guitar. The piece grows progressively busier, but is noticeably restrained.
The second side presents the flip side of the equation. Luciernaga (typically a solo act, here joined by friends) presents a series of nine shorter tracks that rely heavily on guitar drone. As on the first side, mood is essential; but unlike the first side, these pieces rise to louder levels, with greater distortions. The A side harnesses energy; the B side releases it; this is a much more aggressive set. Synth and mbira come to the aid of guitar, but the most notable instrument here may be the Buddha Machines; these little boxes have been around for a while now, but haven’t seen much public action. While the effects on the first side sounded like rain, the effects on the second sound like lasers, especially on “Sidereal”. “Gaussian Blur” creates a claustrophobic nervousness with a percussive pulse and the suggestion of strings. The later tracks meander a bit, heavier on atmosphere than on composition, but this seems to be their intention. If “Angel” were used in a black-and-white horror film, it might be extremely effective.
The digital format is not the best way to experience these recordings, which is why we recommend the hard copy. This split C-80 is a new work that sounds like an artifact, a buried record of the unearthly that cries out to be unearthed. (Richard Allen)