AMN Reviews: Tag Cloud – A Few Moments of Daylight [Flag Day]; BLK w/ BEAR – MO RE B ROKEN TH AN Y OU [Little Cracked Rabbit LCR011]

A pair of new releases brings in strong work by two exemplary artists from the DC area’s electronic/experimental music underground. (And of course the usual disclosure applies–about friends, colleagues, and occasional collaborators.)

A Few Moments of Daylight, a three-track, EP length release from electronics artist/synthesist Tag Cloud (Chris Videll), frames its long title track in between two much shorter pieces that serve as its prelude and postlude. Videll constructs his sound out of layered drones and muted ostinati that, particularly on the long track, sum up to a post-ambient music with a meticulously whetted, serrated edge. It’s hypnotic and unsettling at the same time, as if it welled up from that time at the onset of sleep when one hears voices narrating barely intelligible stories.

MO RE B ROKEN TH AN Y OU is by BLK w/BEAR, a group whose outer circle of contributors is frequently shifting but whose nucleus is the more constant quartet of J.S. Adams, Doug Poplin, P.D. Sexton and Renee Shaw. The opening track, How to Stage Yr Own Death/Lanterns Hung Among Trees is quintessential BLK w/BEAR: thick drones eddying in turbid pools around Poplin’s electronically-altered cello. With their processed samples and slowly drifting harmonies, BLK w/BEAR are particularly adept at creating darkly atmospheric soundtracks that would suit dreams in which machines have somehow acquired human emotions—or humans have lost theirs; which it is isn’t entirely clear in dreams of this sort, and one can imagine that the reality would be even more opaque—but they’re just as suited to the disorienting fissures and discontinuities that have the nagging habit of breaking through the waking world as well.

For BLK w/BEAR, as for others in a small, but nevertheless discernible subset of the DC electronic underground—among whom is Tag Cloud, who collaborates regularly with Adams in the BLK TAG project—the tendency toward a darker, harder-edged electronic sound is congruent with an attitude akin to what André Breton termed “l’humour noir”—the sense of a world grounded in an unjustifiable groundlessness and in which passions are as useless as they are necessary. The music of BLK w/BEAR and of Tag Cloud may sound like it was contrived as the response to an indifferent and senseless universe, but it shows that even under those circumstances a chilly beauty is still possible, and indeed desirable.

Daniel Barbiero