Torn Hawk – Through Force Of Will (2014)

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Now, when an album pops up with recommended tags attached such as “psychedelic”, “experimental” and “lo-fi electronic”, such broad spanning themes mean that the music contained within could pretty much sound like anything, so it’s always a bit of pot-luck with these things. That being said, I’m glad I took the chance because this album really is a scorcher.

“I Am Returning”, which may possibly be the most appropriate title for an opener ever, welcomes us to the lush and overall largely jovial tones of this release. Minutes in and we’re already introduced to a plethora of textures ranging from crushed lo-fi drone fragments to reverbed synth riffs and light piano tinkles. It’s circulatory and not enormously progressive but it paves the way for the great crooning guitars in the midtrack; it has such a lightweight attitude and incorrigible spring in its step it’s hard not to get sucked into its naively optimistic tones. It’s a rather lengthy opening tract, clocking in at over 6 minutes, but once it’s had its say and been welcomed in we’re allowed to segue into the leviathan of “Damage With Jeremy Irons”, tossing us right into the deep end in its ruinous, obliterated guitar drones. It’s incredible, my favourite track of the album by a long way; it’s just so surprising to come out of that deceptively energetic opener and collapse into the black hole of thick processed noise and wailing guitar notes. It loosens up somewhat later on though as bolder, reverbed notes shimmer their way through the grinding backfield and put an end to the menace.

Some middle ground is reached with “Palace Racket”, which manages to diffuse the two disparate sounds we’ve experienced so far as it sets its drum machine into motion and keeps a nice upbeat pace going whilst the heavier guitar work warbles and flanges over the top. It’s never stationary and is always looking to find attention somehow as it zips in and out of the consistent beat in various states of undress, whining and growling until it collapses and lets the softer synths take over in its final throes. “Hutchinson” then is a nice reprieve as it evokes more spacious, fuzzy drones in its little 2 minute interlude just to make sure that our senses are not being overloaded and keep our curiosity tingling as it fades into the empowered distal beats of “Streets On Fire”. It’s all but a fond memory as the 80’s rich instrumentation floats through that crazed prism of distortion, the drum track an echoic shadow of itself and the guitars are a jittering, thrumming mass of half-remembered sound rising to a crackling inferno in the abrupt climax as the flames lick the ceiling only to be abruptly quenched.

But it seems like things begin to take a turn for the more serious in the latter half of the album as “A November Mission” arrives with an entirely more sombre face. It’s still got that pretty rapid synth and quick paced drum track, but the rest of the piece is rather content to remain dark, enigmatic and smeared in the backfield for much of the piece, covered in that protective shroud of reverb and fuzz. Oddly it only seems to get faster and less inclined to break out of its shell as time goes by, doomed to simply repeat the same riffs and oscillating myriad of electronica forever. Of course it doesn’t because it flips into “To Overthrow” and it gets its revenge with shuffling percussion and vast, flanged guitars. It’s a stuttering film noir played back on a glitchy VHS, fuzz and static seeping into its originally dark and virgin corners and the fight just keeps going and going with some truly epic soloing going on towards the end.

The final two tracks are determined to make this experience as epic as possible as the title track arrives, the longest track of the album. It’s suffered much but it has a triumphant and joyous sound as though all its guitar battling and punchy beats have won some mysterious battle against time as it once again carves out a huge soundscape filled with a buried pile of electronica and those signature whining electric guitar notes fiddling and rolling over the top. It just keeps laying on the sunny and lush drone onlaps until the track slowly collapses into its circular and repetitive self in a rush of thick noise. And finally this adventure comes to an end in the gorgeous “Blindsided”, another one content in laying out the repetitive and lengthy melodies in this sun-baked finale. It’s the dense, maximalistic closer we deserve; beer in hand, watching the sun go down as we let the noisy walls wash over us for the last time and revel in our victory, whatever that might be (maybe making it through the album for one), as it sprints slow motion towards the finish line before fading to black.

It’s quite the experience, and I wont lie it’s not for everyone. But there is something curiously consistent in its wailing guitar breakdowns and spirited drum tracks that keeps this album together, plowing unceremoniously and violently into reality with the abrasive first few tracks before morphing into expansive albeit decayed vistas of joyous sound in the latter half. It’s the vapourwave aesthetic with half the cheese and none of the samples, a remnant from another time clashing with false victory against the digital age. Damn good.

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