Black to Comm follows one of the year’s best LPs to date with a superlative EP. Those who enjoyed Seven Horses for Seven Kings will find their appreciation for that set deepened by this companion piece, which revisits themes from the former project while adding a generous amount of new and intriguing music. Earlier this year, we saw Ben Chatwin perform a similar feat, offering a third version of Staccato Signals; while this isn’t enough to declare it a trend, it speaks to the idea that compositions need not occupy a fixed form.
Perhaps the most interesting facet of Before After is the label’s statement that “Seven Horses was a dark work focused on anger and desperation, (while) Before After finds faint glimmers of hope in the same sources.” Our reviewer David managed to identify the brightness in the former work, writing that the album closed with “sweetness and tenderness,” while this reviewer hears bleakness in the new EP. The darkest pieces were saved for a nearly-invisible third work, the digital-only bonus tracks of Seven Horses. In all of these collections, light and darkness are locked in a struggle of (literally) mythical proportions.
The first and last tracks of Before After draw on earlier material, a wise sequencing choice that mirrors the slow arc of Seven Horses. Given the current political situation, it’s easy to hear “États-Unis” as an indictment, a thousand voices moaning in hell. As Childish Gambino would say, this is America. If “Perfume Sample” offers “glimmers of hope,” they are faint indeed, like whispers by the surf. A more typical element is the mangling of voices, as heard on “His Bristling Irascibility,” an abrasive piece that reflects the dissonance of a society in which no one seems to agree, even on the little things. This is a good time to mention that Marc Richter is German, and that Germany has its hands full with right wing populism now as well. A terrified woman breaks down on “They Said Sleep,” her words drowned by a drone. One cannot help recall 20th century history. Is fractured music the truest music on the market today? One could make a cohesive argument that it is; it’s certainly not the music of Eurovision (save perhaps for Iceland’s Hatari).
In terms of tone, the EP’s breakthrough moment arrives at the end of “Eden-Olympia,” which is also the set’s most accessible track. A woman’s voice is heard clearly as she stumbles over her words: “It’s really getting the truth out, and it’s very hard you know, I mean it’s not easy … it’s craziness, craziness.” With “truthers” denying everything from climate change to the Holocaust, it is indeed crazy. Black to Comm’s music is often frightening on the surface, producing shudders and shivers; but fantasy horror is nothing compared to the real thing. “The Seven of Horses” transforms the hell of the opening track into horns, suggesting a call to arms. Richter uses horror to fight horror, and this strange inversion is the EP’s most hopeful sign. (Richard Allen)