Every once in a relatively long while, one comes by an artist that proves life changing, an artist that blows a lot of what one has encountered before and a lot of those one would come to cross paths with afterwards out of the water. Case in point, Belgian dark ambient artist Pepijn Caudron (Kreng) and specifically his 2011 album Grimoire, an album which I described in my review for Fluid Radio as “bleak but with swagger, [bursting with] friction between [different] elements that give us a look into the magnificent. Each track holds a new surprise, it’s an album you can put on forever and never mind pressing that repeat button once it’s done, no singles or standouts and the skip button shall never be touched.” So you could imagine the excitement that rushed over me when I received Works for Abattoir Fermé to review, a five LP, three and a half hour box set of Caudron’s soundtracks for the Belgian theatre company’s silent performances and a TV series over the four years between 2007 and 2011. The phrase “Christmas came early this year” is one that is much overused, but in this case, it holds perfectly true.
The Bigger Picture: An Introduction
With overexcitement comes anxiety. Would this collection of music fulfill the promises of his previous works? would it be a step up or would it end in disappointment? All questions that needed to be answered and only after listening to and fully embracing the music on show here could they be given an appropriate answer. Given that the five works were done for five different projects, it would be rather unfair to judge them all together, as one album, because they’re simply not. What they all have in common, however, is the engaging, spine chilling, dumbfounding ability that Kreng’s music has over its recipients. The compositions hold everything from huge, languid string build ups to glitchy electronica, from nerve wracking vocal samples to orchestral swells. To summarize for those of you who are prone to the “TL;DR” syndrome or in more widely known terms, ADD; these five LP’s hold the best experimental music you will come across in 2012. For those of you who would like to know exactly why this is the case, please read on.
Background music for an exorcism, a fear that has raided mankind for thousands of years. It’s every fear coming alive and the birth of new ones. Tourniquet is a piece for the patient, for those brave enough to endure. The background remains static, pure white noise kept at the lowest of amplitudes, reminding its audience that there’s always something around them, watching them, pushing them towards giving up and declaring themselves unfit to bear the weight of anticipation any longer. Strings rise and fall only to break free and create an all encompassing wall of sound that is at once a source of relief and a prelude for worst things to come and it lingers on that note. This state of unknowingness is what Kreng masters and with the length of the piece allowing him to push it to the furthest point he can, it works brilliantly.
A properly utilized orchestral piece, down tuned and slowed down enough can sound more foreboding than the dirtiest, grimiest doom metal album. The timbral abilities of a full string section and their ability to create dissonance is unparalleled by almost any other form of instrumentation and when coupled with a steadily marching bass drum, they can interject even the most solid of audience’s stream of thought and throw them into a spiral of relentless anxiety. Mythobarbital manages to accomplish exactly that. The first half holds a strong narrative, a story gradually unfolding, noticeable variations bring characters and scenarios into the light. That said, all these disappear halfway through and what seemed as a start of something tangible recedes back into something where one can only suggest what happens, how these narratives unfurled is known only to those who’ve experienced it first hand and we march back out of the story with the bass pulses as our guide into a state of disillusion.
Snuff dives back into the realm of found sound and musique concrete where Kreng resides in very comfortably. Marching snares and crashing cymbals counterpoint the field recordings that form the interludes. It’s dynamic, rapidly changing, sounding like the thoughts of Dostoevsky‘s Rodion Raskolnikov at times. There’s plenty of room for mischief, a sense of wanting to repent for crimes done yet no indications that further ones won’t be committed. The recurring themes on both sides provide the most rounded story of the lot and in turn the most relatable sequence of events. There’s a clearly defined beginning, middle and end in Snuff that encapsulates the listener completely, so much so that when it ends on the heavy panting of the supposed protagonist, one can’t help but gasp for air as well.
Probably the most closely related album in terms of sound and texture to the aforementioned Grimoire and if there’s only one piece to check out of this box set, then Monkey would definitely get my vote. Monkey is everything that makes Kreng as unique as he is and a little bit more. The sheer diversity of approaches and sound sources beheld on both sides alone is worthy of huge praise and how well it’s executed highlights the massive acclaim that Caudron has been receiving in these past couple of years. The first side is the build up ending on the quite disturbing note of ‘eyes, cheeks, nose, chin and jaws…shoulders, elbows, forearms, hands…upper chest and back muscles like in a dream…hips, pelvis, (…) and lower back…buttocks, thighs, knees and lower legs…ankles, feet and toes’, the second, however is everything else. The way the second side starts with a stutter that brings in strings and bells in no way signals what’s to come next and from then on it’s one sharp turn to the next, the sharpest and the most surprising event in the entire boxset occurs at the very end and fittingly so. To spoil it for you, dear reader, would be something you’d hate me for, but dive back with your memory to how the ending of Petrels‘ “William Walker Strengthens the Foundations” totally blindsided you and you’ll get the idea.
Sheer insanity. To illustrate, I had to check and recheck iTunes every time I played this album to make sure it was still Kreng that I was listening to. Given that it was made for a totally different medium, here we see his music in a very different light. Short and to the point, no build ups or drawn out sections, all in your face, all utterly deranged. Electronica, tuned percussion, string swells, arpeggios that actually reminded me of Muse‘s “New Born” (yes, you read correctly) and chilling vocal samples are all there and while someone would think that it’s all too much, nearly impossible to pull off, he does, magnificently. Clocking at a mere thirty three minutes only, this is a perfect wrap up and upon listening to it you can’t help but imagine Caudron smirking at how befuddled you look after going through this.
The Bigger Picture: End
There’s virtually nothing more to say, no more explanation need be done. Listen to this and you would have taken a glimpse into what every other experimental artist around will have to compete against to sound anywhere remotely as compelling or as original. To reiterate, this is the best experimental album of 2012, a new veritable landmark in the genre. (Mohammed Ashraf)