Equal Stones – Transgression (Hidden Vibes, 2014)

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The difficulty with revision is that you get so embroiled with stuffing endless pieces of information back into your head that you sort of lose perspective on real world things and start seeing meaningless things in innocuous places; “transgression”, in the case of Equal Stones’s new LP, I’m almost certain does not refer to a rise in sea level relative to land because that would make no sense. Rather it makes use of the word in a much older and meaner context, one that embraces defiance and disobedience and that comes through strongly in the abrasive music contained within.

The earliest moments of opener “Set Free” are genteel and almost soft as warm drones melt by and cyclical glitch ticks away gently in the backfield; time flowing consistently and we being aware of its ebb. It cant remain in this blissfully unaware, even naive, form for long however as it begins to fight back; thicker drone currents begin to ooze luxuriously and cyclically into the mix and we’re introduced to a character that begins to feel this cage and oppression, slowly mounting through the gently creeping crescendo of texture and intruding vocal moans. Unfortunately it peaks somewhere about 5 or 6 minutes in and then seems to remain content to sit in place for the remaining half, which is vaguely disappointing since one would expect something wholly more cathartic and satisfying to tie the piece together in its closing moments but there is only an inconclusive sensation of something unfinished.

“We All Fall” does something wholly similar to its predecessor as it introduces itself on a wash of distant drone and static, like a bleary television screen stuck between channels, hovering in limbo before some sense of purpose and direction is appropriated to it from some outside presence. And there is a disorientating feeling of weightlessness here, that sickening sensation of motion in your stomach following a plunge and a certain blinding panic as we go down, out of control and unable to make sense of our spinning, twisting surroundings that looked so steady and stable mere moments before. And so it goes, this terrifying instant of failure distilled and stretched out, time slowing down and prolonging the ordeal as we absorb the magnitude of our failure and resign ourselves to our swiftly oncoming fate. It fades away slowly as we’re not allowed to progress that far within the parameters of the sound but there’s a solid resignation still present.

So far there’s been a real sense of dangerous beauty coming through the music, almost a level of admiration, and that comes through even more strongly on the longest, 14 minute expanse of “Reject All You Have Learned”. Its span allows for an even more carefully plotted evolution that was not possible on the first two pieces as it revs itself up on soft and melancholic smeared vocal moans and shimmering, elongate synth drones. Its faux record player/lo-fi aesthetic also comes through with a sort of pseudo-organic cyclical glitching and clicking, turning over and over and keeping tab of time in the same way the opener did as the track unfolds. Its peak is brief despite its duration, culminating in a few moments of  briefly aligning textural  crescendo before becoming undone in tersely shifting, piercing synths in its closing few minutes.

Closer “Death At Both Ends” seems to embrace a certain long-form chaos that’s been slowly built up through the duration of this record, a head of steam atop this teetering pile of emotionally wrought drone. There’s more drive and more punch in the shortest track of the album as it runs itself down in double the time of the previous track. And there’s a real sense of rhythm and definable, oscillating motion here too, present as a tattered, stuttering mass of lurching electronica floating in a sea of whining and miserable drone before the whole entity just gives up the ghost and migrates back to darkness to draw the curtains on the album as a whole.

Whilst I appreciate the need for sparseness and minimalism, and see the necessity for the paucity of the evolution within each movement, it still doesn’t make the album any more compelling to me, emotionally or otherwise. I’ve listened to this a number of times now but there’s still some barrier to entry for me; there is an intimacy and there is a solid heap of introspection but it feels so distant and alienating, and the fact that every track has no conclusive finale and simply meanders to nothing is really disappointing. There’s not a whole lot of love from me here but the fugue it commands is worthy of a listen at least.

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