Grammostola is an album of mysteries. The title refers to a branch of the tarantula family, while the samples are taken from old Finnish choral records, but neither fact is apparent without reading. It’s refreshing to encounter the artist’s quote that “it’s essentially just fun.”
We last encountered NE Trethowan (who does in fact reside in Finland) in 2012, but he’s kept busy since then as the curator of the Tavern Eightieth label. The new album sees him exercising his love for granular sound, and exudes a sandpapered type of ambience in which the tools are often rougher than the surface. It’s often hard to tell where the electronic grains end and organic sounds begin, especially in a selection such as “Ruoke Adder”, which comes across as a series of approaching and receding waves over light gravel.
The tracks may play with algorithms and drones, but whenever the choral samples bob above the surface, the listener is snapped back to reality. This grows most apparent at the midpoint of the nine-minute center track, “Suvanto”. The contrast between the (at times) randomly generated waves of soft noise and the human generated notes is exquisite, a reminder that even a distant voice can be enough to humanize an otherwise scientific recording. As the voices swarm like bees, the electronics cede them space, as if humbled in their presence.
“Suvanto” sets the stage for the seamless, three-part “Grain Removal”, which sounds a lot like its title. The opening minutes of the first part toy with silence and space, but the closing minutes of the first part and the entirety of the second remove the album from the ambient realm once and for all. These bursts of static are simply too rough to allow for meditation. Instead, they come across as angry bears, poked in their hibernation dens. Only in the third part do things settle down, like the droplets falling from leaves after a storm has passed. This tryptych is the most aggressive piece we’ve ever heard from Trethowan, a sign that he can’t be pigeonholed. But as long as he continues to have fun recording, we’ll continue to have fun listening. (Richard Allen)