If you think the cover is great, wait ’til you see the vinyl. And if you think the vinyl is great, wait ’til you hear the music. This disturbingly elegant split LP is a perfect October release, and would make an excellent gift for anyone interested in the dark fantasy realm.
One can stare at the cover image for a long time and see new things every minute. There’s the bear / sloth / anthill-headed creature attempting to extract honey from a giant bee / scarab. But then there’s a geyser to the left that matches the creature’s head, and a stream of saclike somethings streaming into the fallen tree, which may also be a tentacle. Who is the prey, and who is the predator? If the listener seeks sweet sounds, will the listener find instead something cold and prickly? Credit M.S. Waldron for the cover image.
But just when we think we should be scared, there’s a beautifully swirled navy and indigo record inside, one of the finest examples of the process in recent memory. Now we can’t be scared, no matter what the music might imply. Instead, we’re fascinated. What does this planet sound like? Are the normal associations reversed – creaking means safety, dragged metal means new life? This is the appeal of the entire dark fantasy genre, from art to literature to music. Thomas Carnacki is an occult detective, while Vulcanus is the god of fire (and by extension, volcanos). Original images, words and sounds draw us in, spark our imagination, make us dream of other worlds, benign or otherwise.
Thomas Carnacki’s single-track side begins with whistling, lapping water, gulls and bells, establishing a control group before the proceedings grow increasingly unfamiliar. Step outside the spaceship, through the mirror, or into the machine, and one’s bearings may be lost. This is exactly what happens a few minutes into the piece, as rustles and synthetic cries begin to inhabit the sound field. The split release is the first vinyl outing for Gregory Scharpen, whose capsule is filled by a few friends. It’s not clear if they’re tapping to get in or tapping to get out, although there is definitely some urgency to the matter. As the piece grows, danger and beauty grow alongside it. The title is perfectly chosen: “Elegant Things, Distressing Things, Things Not Worth Doing.” Should we get closer and see what that thing is? Why not ~ we’ve come too far to turn back now.
While Thomas Carnacki’s music resides in the organic (including coffee grinder, a bowl of sand, a jar of marbles and a candlestick – we suspect the latter weapon, and the butler), Vulcanus 68 – typically a duo – focuses on tape manipulation and collage. Their side is no less mysterious. The four-minute “Azra” sounds like the inside of a dryer, all creaks and whirrs, bumps and jolts. A disturbed child is in there, as well as an even more disturbed adult. Maybe we should not open this dryer. Did we lock the door to the basement? Too late.
The longer “Arcana XV” follows, culled from years of captured sounds. Think of it as a happily deranged set of field recordings. Instead of the prettiest sounds (a nice stream, a melodic bird), Vulcanus 68 finds the most disturbing sounds in its archives and presents them with glee. The line between live and studio is blurred to invisibility, but the individual sources seem recognizable: wind chimes, dark moans, amplified organ. While less benign than Side A, Side B retains the allure of the strange. One might need a drink before venturing into these fields – just one drink, to steady the nerves – but curiosity will still win out. What’s that you say? They never found the rest of the body? Well, at least they found some of it. See, it’s not so bad, the glass is half full! (Richard Allen)