It is not difficult to get a handle on what Powell is going for aesthetically, but beyond that, it’s an experience that’s surprisingly difficult to assimilate. With desiccated, blunt no-wave rhythms and abrasive textures, the London producer is exploring some of the same post-punk influences that fed into “dance-punk” circa 2005 but arriving somewhere uncanny instead. Powell’s releases to date — this untitled 12″ on the fledgling Death of Rave imprint follows last year’s debut Body Music on his own Diagonal Records — outline a highly individual and historically informed take on avant-dance.
The live and sampled instrumentation used throughout the release is in itself familiar enough from recent no-wave, post-punk, and industrial revivals, but Powell adopts the era’s sonic murk too, honing in on a frequency spectrum that’s brittle and attenuated. The A-side’s “A Band” is the most accessible track here, establishing an affinity with Suicide in particular. Propelled by a clunky drum machine tattoo overlaid with Pan Sonic-grade staticky pulses and an indecipherably catchy vocal hook, the rinky-dink rhythm that pushes indefatigably on could be issuing from a family-room organ, lending a queasy, flimsy undertone to the insistent motorik pulse. The gruel-like consistency of the recording draws the listener in, so that when Powell introduces an additional layer of sonic depth with some strategic, full-bodied bass drums, the ear grasps at the hint of familiar structure amid the gray brutalism.
The quaking vignette “Acid” is more abstract still, turning decisively away from the 303’s established moods. Instead of gracefully drooping or acrobatically punchy, the synthesizer belches and whirls malevolently in a way that feels closer to enhanced interrogation than drug-potentiating acid house. The lumbering “Rider” is sprawling and even siltier, centered around the droning ground hum of a four-track Tascam and booming live drums that fall somewhere between voodoo break and psych-rock hypnosis. Powell fits his loops together snugly enough to forestall the possibility of swing or dynamics, only allowing glimpses of expressiveness in the dust cloud, like when a splintery funk bass flails out of “Rider”‘s lurching mass. “Oh No New York” finishes up the EP using the same template as “A Band” and “Rider”: throaty, primitive bass gurgle, neck-snapping drums, and hypnotically blank vocal snippets. For all of 2012’s talk of “outsider house” via labels like L.I.E.S. and PAN, very little of the music — certainly none of the most-discussed releases — was this fundamentally challenging, fucked-up, or isolated. Aiming mostly at the vital organs, Powell’s music isn’t a restaging of the past but a hardcore, unsparing, and unsentimental channeling of the spirits.