Demdike Stare, Elemental

[Modern Love]


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As much as we would rather not think of ourselves in this way, in some respects we’re all primarily consumers. In few areas does our consumption mean so much as in music: what we choose to consume (as well as avoid) is how we indicate our taste and expand our knowledge. As a vinyl buyer, there’s a ritualistic aspect of consumption that cannot be overlooked: the hours each day spent digging through dusty crates, the Discogs bartering, the anxious wait for mail-order packages, the unbridled joy of stumbling upon a record you’ve been after for years, the discovery of new sounds, the camaraderie with fellow diggers. Demdike Stare don’t only reference these rituals — their music practically is vinyl culture. There’s plenty of novel production involved with the sounds traveling from stylus to monitor, but the wealth of material used is a byproduct of digging, digested and processed through Sean Canty and Miles Whittaker’s collective know-how.

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Fitting, then, that their grandest statement to date is one that speaks primarily to vinyl as an object and our consumption of it. Elemental is a daunting package: a weighty quadruple LP that saw its individual elements released in staggered waves. Digesting the thing on appearance is a feat in itself: each flower-themed record has its own artwork (featuring said flower) to decode, and messages in the runout grooves seem to elucidate at times and confound at others. It’s unclear whether the four slabs of wax here are meant to be individual chapters in one tome or four self-contained stories — as each have their own narrative, so do they fit into a larger story. Chyrysanthe gets things going as the star-crossed “Mephisto’s Lament” slides into its own noisy, private hell, and the funereal chant of “Kommunion” shifts into contorted, bone-snapping rhythms. Violetta traverses more exotic terrain, beginning with repeated bouzouki plucking that, at some point, settles into a locked groove, while “Mnemosyne” bustles with the activity of a humid mediterranean marketplace. The flip side darts into the nearest opium den, experiencing a particularly nasty nightmare amidst “Violetta”‘s menacing piano stabs and violent, grated rhythms.

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Rose is where we really start to mine the darkest corners of Demdike Stare’s psyche. “Erosion Of Mediocrity” is anchored by an almost black-metal riff, while strings, high-pitched shrills, and vaguely industrial groans find themselves mixed up into a cut-time trance. “Falling Off The Edge” continues the bleary-eyed death march, ending with elegiac voices that get caught up in a locked groove. Finally, Iris announces itself with a morose cello and incessant door knocking, slowly transitioning from those gothic surroundings to the 21st century via a 4/4 kick and Pan Sonic bleeps. “Daesin” is a stunning piece of windswept drones, punctuated by radiophonic sound effects and the piercing cries of nefarious sirens. “Ishmael’s Intent” is the package’s killshot: a claustrophobic mélange of oppressive low-end and nigh-apocalyptic strings, that, once finished, leaves the listener in a motionless stupor.

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“L’enfer, c’est les autres,” reads the final runout groove of the package, and while Sartre’s introspective hell certainly lends plenty to Elemental, it’s Dante who really provides the proper imagery. The shades of each record get darker as we progress (from a bright orange to a deep, dark blue) just like the concentric circles through which Dante and Virgil travel, and the visceral torture that our poet describes matches the visceral, physical music inscribed over the eight sides of Elemental. It’s never precisely clear where some of these sounds have been dug up, but whether from the dingiest shop in Istanbul or the north of England, Canty and Whittaker re-contextualize and reshape them to sound sourced directly from Hades. After 2010’s triptych of records, it seems like the lads of Demdike Stare are keen to operate in predominantly grand gestures, and surely Elemental reigns with one of the grandest you are likely to experience. It’s an investment, yes, both of time and money, but when that investment results in such a vivid, singular experience, it’s hard to consider spending time with anything else.

Trackbacks

Little White Earbuds February Charts 2012 | Little White Earbuds  on March 2, 2012 at 12:17 PM

[…] 07. Maxmillion Dunbar, “Polo” (Extended Version) [Live At Robert Johnson] (buy) 08. Demdike Stare, “Ishmael’s Intent” [Modern Love] (buy) 09. Objekt, “Cactus” [Hessle Audio] (buy) 10. Ital, “Privacy […]

Emerging Electronic Musicians of Sri Lanka | TUNED MASS  on April 8, 2013 at 8:01 AM

[…] lost in the sound of the waves to take a peek at the woods. But if Demidike Stare’s evolution in crate digging or the sonically enamoring work of Pan Sonic is proof, the interplay between noise and rhythm […]

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