Knossos, on the isle of Crete in the Mediterranean, has been called the oldest city in Europe – it was, for a time, the centre of Minoan civilisation and the reasons for its collapse have been lost to the ages. When the site was examined by archaeologists, the complexity of the architecture and the various bull motifs that survived suggested that this place was the origin for the myth of the minotaur. This claim is apparently a hotbed of debate still, which underlines one thing: the minotaur in the labyrinth remains one of the more potent legends passed down to us from the Greeks.
It’s this tale that is the spark of inspiration for Abyss X, who draws on the “rage, greed and destruction” in the story and introduces the suitably site-specific sound of the Cretan lyra into the mix. There is an air of mystery about the Brooklyn-based musician – her most in-depth feature thus far seems to be an interview in Vogue – but one thing we do know about Abyss X is that she’s originally from Crete which has had an increasing influence on her compositions, with elements of Greek music making their presence more audible on each succeeding release.
The process of reaching back to her roots has enabled Abyss X to develop her own voice and Pleasures Of The Bull is her most confident and powerful work to date. Part of that evolution is shedding the more obvious influences; the EP is less reliant on crunchy, distorted beats, although the sub-bass still punches through in a very agreeable manner. Opener “H. TURT” (read it backwards) throws the listener immediately into an unsettling sound-world, with whispered vocals panned left and right, and a restrained beat pushing the arrangement along.
The voices are a recurrent theme on this EP, providing extra tonal qualities to the music and an added level of intrigue (a bit like the repeated whispers in the early episodes of Lost). It’s a definite progression from Abyss X’s earlier work which in retrospect may have hidden all the subtlety behind the rhythms. Instead, we get a song like “Lyrical Waxing” which could have been on a 4AD project in the This Mortal Coil days (think Cocteau Twins meets Lisa Gerrard – and it’s as good as you can imagine).
Pleasures Of The Bull is the work of a producer honing her skills – both in composition and arrangement – creating one of the finest release of the year so far. The EP ties together and yet there is terrific variety in each track so it doesn’t all flow in one homogeneous listen but ebbs and flows. Abyss X even throws in a bit of slap bass on “Humiliation” and it doesn’t feel out of place which is in itself a remarkable achievement. Such is the range of sounds within a very cohesive 23 minutes that I can imagine Abyss X being commissioned produce soundtracks in the near future. I don’t always sense the rage, greed and destruction in the music – it feels too poetic and balletic for that – but like a labyrinth this is a record to get lost in for days. (Jeremy Bye)