Image by Damien Blottiere
Pre-Cert Home Entertainment, Demdike Stare and Andy Votel’s home for library music filtered through their combined giallo-tinted lenses, has ratcheted up the pressure since early spring’s Slant Azymuth, seemingly releasing a record every month since. Over the course of one of the hottest summers on record in New York, Pre-Cert records concerning witches (Songs For Hannah Henley), backwoods opiate use (Shacklecross), and a sort of grim, nightmarish re-visioning of Wallace and Gromit’s A Close Shave (Flock Toxicant) have arrived at my doorstep, each darker and more seasonally incongruous than the one before. The label’s recently released eighth volume comes as a bit of a surprise, not least due to its brightly colored sleeve and the even brighter music etched into its grooves.
Of course, the brightness throughout Xian Orphic is relative, since this is a Pre-Cert record after all, but Votel (aka Anworth Kirk, Applehead) jettisons the soundtrack snippets and obscure library samples found on his previous records in favor of Kosmische and 70s synth reference points. Whereas no one else within techno circles has been mining the kind of horror sounds that Demdike and Votel have, synth music has been all the rage for the past year or so, enough that a one-stop modular synth shop recently opened up in Brooklyn. Votel, it seems, is instead using his own hip-hop influenced production methods on Xian Orphic, sampling synth records rather than forking out thousands for a Doepfer system and recording side-long drone pieces. This ethos pays dividends, as the record maintains the archival aesthetic of Pre-Cert through primary sources — primary sources that aren’t immediately apparent. The press release throws around heavy hitters such as Bernard Parmegiani, Alan Howarth, and Suzanne Ciani, and while the weight of those forebears weighs heavily, Votel captures a vibe all his own, one with the many of the quirks of the label’s past releases but much less of the gloom.
“Neotantrik 1,” with its upward-reaching arpeggios and thick sawtooth jabs, is much less sexual than its title might suggest: instead feeling like one of the more solemn killings in the latter act of a Dario Argento movie (those giallo references are never too far behind). “Pastoral Phrixus” is a bit more blissed out, while “Hi-Five” is the highlight of the record, building with measured steps and almost pretty melodies. “Ovis Aries” and “Cross Modal Pasticity” end things in hazy, washed-out soundscapes, and it’s just as well, as Xian Orphic is the kind of surreal daydream that you remember bits and pieces of after the fact, but is fulling engrossing over its runtime. Not only does it grab me in a way that much contemporary synth music fails to do, but it sticks with me, as little whistling sounds or fragments of melody get lodged in my head for days afterwards. Considering how strong a label as Pre-Cert has been, the fact that Xian Orphic marks a high point makes it one you should get your hands on.