Brisbane, Australia’s genre-blurring Ektoise commissioned several artists to reshape material from their LP Kiyomizu, with complete freedom. The result is Down River, a precursor to the full-length remix album Distortions, which includes contributions from Mark Fell (SND), The Haxan Cloak, zK and others.
Noah Landis is best-known as the keyboard player for the avant-garde metal group Neurosis, as well as a member of their ambient alter-egos Tribes of Neurot. Circa the turn of the millennium, when I was just a 16 year old first discovering challenging music, I bought Tribes of Neurot’s album Grace, which was intended to be played overlapping Neurosis’ Times of Grace. Played on its own, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, as it was the first time I really taken a close listen to ambient music. It was also the first time I had experimented with playing multiple albums at once, with moving the speakers to different locations, tampering with the mix, and altering my own location in relation to them. In retrospect, this was the beginning of me thinking seriously about the various registers on which music functions spatially, and had a rather important influence on my future interest in experimental music.
Landis’ take on “Down River” is moody and atmospheric as you’d expect, and though it may have an air of dark ambient to it, the sonorities shift enough to give the result a unique sound that I find lacking in the often restricting realm of artists working in that genre. Smooth synth swells are given a slight warble, offset by a brass-like undercurrent. With utter patience, the track reaches a noisey climax during the final third. When the tribal drum beat enters, it is generally surprising, its acoustic reverberation contrasting with the synthetic sounds swirling around it, and much more effective than if it has been electronically produced. The closing static recedes as high-end shrieks flitter across the sustained bass tones below, until being pitch-shifted forward out of existence. Plenty has been said about the phenomenon of the remix album in general, and I have little desire to wade into those arguments. I take these remixes as a sign that Ektoise are willing to rethink the functioning of a band, and begin continue challenging themselves without getting trapped in the configuration of how bands usually tend to produce music. Down River‘s dark explorations are a welcome sign of a band pushing the limits of their sound, seeing their material mined for different purposes by careful reshaping from other producers. (Joseph Sannicandro)