When composers release multiple albums in a short frame, one worries that they are stretching their ideas too thin. One way around this is to release sets that are so different in timbre one would never dream of putting them together. Brett Naucke‘s latest pair of releases, appearing exactly one month apart, are separated by tone as well as time. The Back of the Garden is precise and bright, while The Mansion is abstract and dark: moods portrayed in their cover art and cemented by their lead singles.
The Back of the Garden is part of Unifactor Tapes’ Batch #5, which also includes ambient cassettes from Dominic Coppola and Forest Management. While there’s a hint of ambience in this garden, the front feel is electronic, the go-to piece being the two-part “Flora Counterpoint”, which conjures pleasant memories of “1028 Modulated Tunnels” from 2016’s Executable Dreamtime. Naucke has come a long way since then, but there’s no denying the appeal of an arpeggio. Those bells are downright gorgeous, and would sing of spring even without the title prompt. One could play each of these pieces over and over, or simply allow the patterns to sail like newly defrosted bees ~ which in fact occupy the track between.
To play in this garden is to experience delight. One feels the sunlight on the back of one’s neck and sees hints of green, orange and red encroaching on the gray. The cover art operates as a yin and yang of complimentary seasons. When the crickets arrive in “Daylight Savings”, one knows that the sullen season has passed and the littlest creatures are again in play. Pinging tones move from background to foreground, speaker to speaker. Waves of melody cascade on the earthen shore. By the title track, the leaves are budding, the streams are flowing and the hills are alive with the sound of music.
If made aware of each other’s albums, one wonders whether Unifactor Tapes and Spectrum Spools might have reversed their release dates. Looking up on the hill, one sees the cold, deserted Mansion. And while brightness is still present on this album, any tentative peace is muted by unusual creaking and rustlings. The wordless vocals of Natalie Chami turn “The Vanishing” into a haunted house. Extract the melodic notes from “Youth Organ” and one might be able to connect the piece to “Flora Counterpart”. Yet while the music’s core is melodic, the adornment is not; seasonings of glitch and industrial music abound.
This isn’t what fans are used to hearing from Naucke. One is tempted to regard The Mansion as evolution, but it’s more likely a different side, a horizontal move rather than a vertical one. There’s great complexity to be found here, with bursts of percussion that imitate injured timepieces, a theme introduced in “Sisters” that continues through “The Clocks in the Mansion.” But there’s also a buried simplicity struggling to find its way to the surface.
The themes of The Mansion are said to be “based on a childhood home”. One wonders what kind of home this might have been, as most children would likely prefer to live in the back of the garden. Not that the album is without playfulness; midway through the seven-minute “Born Last Summer” (which is also the midpoint of the album), Naucke’s familiar melodic theme reemerges, only to disintegrate as the track progresses. The dissonant viola of the subsequent piece speaks of a more difficult childhood of frightening corridors and distorted self-images. The album ultimately ends in an extended, warlike drone. Were this the only Naucke artifact, one might wonder if he had made it out alive. Recalling the prior tape, one can relax, realizing that both mansion and garden share space in his grown-up heart. (Richard Allen)