In the digital age, one has a begrudging admiration for the few artists who still insist on doing things the old school way. Mike Fazio (A Guide for Reason) is one of these. After three years of commercial silence, he has returned with the latest volume of what he calls “difficult music.” He’s correct to term it “difficult,” but only in comparison to mainstream music; there’s nothing off-putting about XIII-XIV, as it simply requires patience.
Patience is one thing Fazio has in spades. He’s patient enough to create a worthy physical artifact for the 50 people who will be able to procure a copy of this disc (let’s make that 49, because I’ve got one). He’s patient enough to record two slowly-developing, 20-minute tracks. And he’s patient enough to wait for any acclaim, knowing that he’ll never be accepted by the mainstream. Nor does he wish to be; after decades in the business, he’s content to have procuratorial control.
One is never quite sure what to expect from a Fazio release. Sometimes his albums include spoken word, other times electronic beats. The length of the tracks often determines their internal variety. “The Wonder Room” is a series of tonal experiments, wafting through the speakers like an electronic breeze. If one could hear all of the circuits in one’s house as they were activated, setting and resetting themselves, it might sound something like this: soft feedback, sine loops, perceived patterns. When a more piercing tone enters in the 8th minute, it’s like a quiet alarm, signaling a shift to a more active segment. And two minutes later (remember, it’s slow-developing), the scratch of a record beneath a needle launches a louder series of sequences. Only at the very end does something resembling techno appear: the best location for a light climax.
The album’s strength is its consistency. This time out, Fazio seems to be following a specific sonic vision, uninterrupted by the more obvious inclusions that made prior works seem jagged. “The Road to the Beginning Again” starts with the same density as “The Wonder Room” ends before retreating in volume, allowing for a smooth flow. At 2:40, it is nearly silent, save for an electronic current that sounds like a contrail. That piercing tone reappears soon after, connecting the two works. But the electronics are subtly different, sounding more like typewriters and insects than circuits and wires; and their speaker-to-speaker travels are more intense. Again, one has the sense that something is building, but the reveal doesn’t appear until the end of the 12th minute: and true to the form of the album, the drone remains restrained even as it advances.
Nothing on the album beats any other part of the album into submission. This tuns out to be his best set to date. By the end, we’ve realized something new about Fazio, and perhaps he’s realized it about himself as well. On XIII-XIV, he comes across as the opposite of The Hulk ~ the subtler Fazio gets, the stronger he gets. (Richard Allen)