AMN Reviews: JG Thirlwell & Simon Steensland – Oscillospira (2020; Ipecac Recordings)

JG Thirlwell is one of those people from whom you’ve probably heard music without knowing it. He records under a slew of pseudonyms and collaborates with a wide variety of artists. Simon Steensland is similarly prolific, focusing more on chamber rock and scoring for theater. On Oscillospira, they come together for a set of recordings that fall into the RIO / Zeuhl space and are darkly evocative of early Univers Zero and Present.

With a set of guest musicians on vocals, oboe, bass clarinet, and violin, as well as Morgan Agren on drums, Thirlwell & Steensland grind through eight theatrically orchestral pieces. Heavy, distorted guitar lines accompany the more traditional instrumentation and chanting to make Oscillospira a cinematic experience. A form of minimalism underlies these tracks, with one or more instruments setting forth a repeating theme, often cycling through several variations with shifting instrumentation. After one theme is explored, another comes to the fore. Yet, there are still some less structured moments despite these pieces appearing to be tightly composed.

An exemplary track is Heron, which begins with strings and a subtlety tense snare pattern, before a wending theme gives way to a main section of chanting voices. Eventually, this evolves into a multi-layered prog-rock break led by voices and guitar but with the classical instruments supporting or adding flourishes. In between parts of this is an atmospheric passage with strings and percussion that is punctuated by aggressive guitar.

Thumbs way up for this one. Oscillospira comes out April 24.