A Horizon Made of Canvas is a bleak marvel, a journey through the creeping sensation that something new and unexplainable is around the corner. Sharing its name with the first chapter of a book by neo-reactionary writer Mencius Moldbug, the album presents sounds like a fog: dense yet sparse, seemingly unmovable and yet always in motion, a contradictory mass whose insides are empty. I felt nervous while listening to it, a strange bodily alert that was telling me I was somehow about to fall; A Horizon draws full attention through its slight, quiet tone and subtle instrumental dialogues, like a dread mystery unfolding, making it easy to lose oneself amidst the volumes spoken by its silences. It made me want to know where it was taking me, the clarinet’s voice a jeweled allure leading only deeper inside the fog, every step a nudge in paranoiac impulses – in the end, the place where it was taking me was simply nowhere.
To be on the verge of an image of the world and finding its spiteful artificial nature is the gist of Moldbug’s chapter, but like with many an exploratory US writer, the failing of his text is that the world is the global mental projection of American society. His reductive, elaborately obtuse writing necessarily folds upon itself, its feeble attempts at describing something other than the image of his native country rapidly leading to the appearance of a revelation beholden to the replacement of an American hegemony with another of a different order. “We are left with pure confusion”, Moldbug states at the end, in what is presumably to be continued by rational illumination, but then only further entrenches within a haze of bullet-speed historical reductions that put new clothes on the Third-Positionist emperor. The cracks in the text are like the silences in the album: they are pure nothingness, an oasis of thought for the nihilism-inclined, a warm call to live without – even beyond – illusions. But once there, it is impossible not to see that this dark refuge of desire and reason is yet another illusion itself: the music slithers on, as music, as expressionist hell, as something only seeming to be on the edge of intelligibility. For all its paranoid evocations, that no-place is still resolutely the world and its inescapable image.
Jeremiah Cymerman & Charlie Looker are masters of their craft each, having made careers out of consistently severe and challenging work. This is perhaps both artists’ heaviest project to date, which is saying something. The slow-burning realization of desires unfulfilled, of the failure of the nihilist outlook, of the powerful sensation of being at the edge of something truly new whittling away into nerve-wracking deception – every call and every response sums up into a great everything whose initially imposing size is ultimately revealed to be insignificant after a simple shift in perspective. This is the other great dimension in the album, a mournful constant that underlies the music’s allures. It ends without any sense of having ended, but unlike ambient or drone works that seem to continue on as a lingering register somewhere in our consciousness, A Horizon Made of Canvas cuts all pretenses of continuity away. Its distortions and modernist klezmer-like riffs do not stay, they do not welcome the listener into any sort of fold. When I thought I’d finally know where we were going, they just turned away, and left me reeling. I smiled, but it was a smile without mirth. No wonder the album starts with a track called “The Ecstasy of Betrayal”, perhaps a reference to Jean Genet’s Prisoner of Love. Paradoxically, for Genet, it is only in that passionate moment being betrayed when clarity arrives, when true goodness, true connection with others, becomes possible. My nervousness passed, and in the mournfulness for having being deceived I let it all go.
If you’ve ever been attracted by the end of the world, this is for you. Let its spark tempt you, let the nothingness feel like home – the end is one more image, and it will turn its back on you, too. By the time its alienating, bleak music suddenly falls quiet, it will let you return to others, it will let you appreciate the joy of belonging. After all, it is the canvas that is made of horizons, not the other way around. (David Murrieta Flores)