Dragged Away marks a return of both artist and record label. Sci-Fi & Fantasy, who released the first Headlock album back in 2013, have been keeping a low profile of late, pretty much just releasing label founder Lamin Fofana’s albums since their initial flurry of releases. Fofana has been releasing music elsewhere, so perhaps it is simply that the time wasn’t right for SF&F to be active. That looks likely to change, with the first new work in seven years from Lou DiBenedetto and the promise of several other Headlock releases on the horizon.
What is notable about this revival is the lack of fanfare involved. Headlock’s social media is updated infrequently with lengthy gaps between updates (literally years in some cases). With an album about to drop and others on the way, perhaps a couple of posts would have boosted its profile. I try to avoid social media as much as possible so I can hardly expect anyone else to invest heavily in it – then again, I don’t have a new record launching. The press release for Dragged Away is equally understated but has enough clues to enable us to form a hypothesis about the album’s background.
DiBenedetto made Dragged Away during a cathartic creative period last year; he was able to push through whatever had been holding him back. There’s a jagged edge on this album compared to his earlier releases, so I would guess that maybe producing ambient pieces on their own wasn’t quite doing it for him. The smooth texture of 2014’s All Over is now largely buried in the mix. There is a layer of distortion and feedback over the top to form an altogether crunchier dynamic.
This, presumably, is the cathartic element of Dragged Away; the music becomes a howl, obliterating the familiar ambient tropes. That’s not to say the traditionally ambient works are gone completely. Appearing towards the end of the album, “Sky” is the longest track here, all swooping glassy synth tones and a wash of euphoria. But that feeling is ratcheted up into a buzz-saw grind and metallic whine by “Wave”, which follows on immediately.
Are these layers of noise an ambient producer’s equivalent of a cry of anguish, a roar of impotent rage against the cruel machinations of the universe? Dragged Away was composed in memory of friends Stanley Belliard and Rob Case; two lives, we imagine, taken too soon. Are they the wrestlers on the album cover? Does the cathartic creative period mentioned in the press release stem from their deaths? It’s certainly possible though speculation gets us nowhere – if Lou DiBenedetto wants to tell us, he can. For now, he has produced a Headlock album that is a triumph, a powerful witness to the pain of loss – it isn’t the sort of album that sits in the background but is a cri de coeur, a noisy, impassioned outpouring of grief. (Jeremy Bye)