Linea Aspera’s first EP was a mostly vocal affair, while the British duo’s follow-up is mostly instrumental. But it’s not just instrumental, it’s weird instrumental – no surprise, as the clear vinyl comes from Weyrd Son Records, who knew they had a winner on their hands when they heard the original cassette.
For the first two minutes, “Kinabalu” sounds just like one might expect in light of the duo’s 6-track 2012 debut. Ryan Ambridge rolls out a Sisters of Mercy carpet of beats and bass, reaching nearly 200 b.p.m. (hint: dance to every other beat), while Alison Lewis lets loose with Siouxsie-esque vox. But at 2:08, in a squall of synths, everything changes. The drums disappear, replaced by a clock. Static surges forth like an amplified needle stuck in a weathered groove. Feedback bleeds from the plastic pores. This bizarre twist continues for the next five minutes. The beat never returns, although the bass occasionally pokes through the tick and hum. Throughout “Kinabalu”s final minute, the entire sound field is filled with dissonance and scrapes. This inversion of expectation is exquisite, although current fans may end up befuddled. Thankfully, after an abrupt ending, the single-length track “Vultures” restores a sense of continuity. Come back, dancers, the floor is filling again! The keyboards offer shades of Eurythmics. And it’s much easier to look sexy at 120 b.p.m. “Sound the alarm!” sings Alison. “We’re fading fast!” But the duo is not exactly fading – it’s gaining strength. The instrumental “Royal Straight” closes the single-sided vinyl with a dash of Depeche Mode and a hint of Robert Hampson: a rare mix that few have attempted, afraid of where it might lead. The EP concludes with dark whooshes, an off-kilter alarm, a splash, a gasp and a gun.
Will there be a Linea Aspera III? Apparently not, as Ambridge and Lewis have each chosen to pursue solo projects. The silver lining: now we can expect two new albums instead of one. (Richard Allen)