Eager to have his records placed in bins other than the “house” ones at record stores, Ron Morelli has steadily increased the weirdness of each subsequent L.I.E.S. release, this year moving from punishing single-take techno through gritty, long-form sampled tracks in just a couple catalogue numbers. After a killer debut from Bookworms on a pizza-stamped white label, the label comes through with their longest record yet, a double 12″ from another brand new artist called Jahiliyya Fields. “Jahiliyya” is a concept in Islam referring to the customs of Arabian peoples before the revelation of the Quran to Muhammed, and so it seems fitting that Unicursal Hexagram uses a decidedly antiquated approach to electronic music, one before the revelations of… err, Jeff Mills, I suppose. Indeed, this record has much more to do with the early electronic experiments from the likes of Subotnik and the kosmische of Conrad Schnitzler than anything else L.I.E.S. has put out (bar the still-unreleased Hassan record — another project with vaguely Middle Eastern themes).
“Servant Garden” storms right out of the gate with technicolor twisting arpeggios and quarter-tone melodies, while the pulsing guitar drones and drenched rhythmic noises of “Ocean Mom” are drawn with a more murky palette. “Air On Earth” feels like the record’s centerpiece, and its measured thud, thud, thud and myriad rhythmic elements lend it a propulsion that plenty of techno tracks wish they had. Never once does it feel like it’s treading water, instead heaping on noises and shuffling rhythms around as it builds towards a fleeting climax. “Water Breaker”‘s skipping, seemingly out-of-time patterns ebb and flow with intensity, while “AAAAA” sees the record out by turning the 707’s tempo knob further down than many have dared. “White Cabbage” is the record’s apex, with its jabbing 16th-note bass tones, slowly phased background drones, and memorable synthesized melodies all gasping for air. It’s claustrophobic and anxiety-riddled, yet airy and uplifting — a study of textural and structural contrasts that the occasional burst of a kick drum only serves to hit home.
A unicursal hexagram is a six pointed star that can be drawn without lifting one’s writing utensil, and was embraced by Aleister Crowley, becoming a major occultist symbol. References to both Islam and Thelema in a single record is a rarity indeed, and the spiritual aspects of Unicursal Hexagram‘s music are hard to ignore, as even this avowed atheist feels at times like lighting a candle for a higher power while listening to Jahiliyya Fields’ music. Some may be tempted to tag the tracks of Unicursal Hexagram as beatless or even less accurately, ambient, but this is intense music meant to be played loud, its spiritual dimensions making it a powerful aural experience, even if it might come off as a bit new-age (but in the best possible way, I assure you). Synth music abounds these days, with countless operators looking back to 1960s New York and 1970s Berlin in search of the most potent psychedelic electronics imaginable. But while many fall flat due to lack of focus or contentment to rehash trodden ground, Unicursal Hexagram moves with purpose. What exactly that purpose is in the service of might never be clear, but it’s a compelling journey all the way through.