Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: Spires - Puzzlebox (Lava Church, 2011)

Spires is an alias of a mysterious Denver based musician who, according to the Lava Church’s website, has been dabbling in all kinds of music for nearly 20 years. The website also states that he’s a former US special forces veteran. Now I don’t know whether it’s true, or whether it’s just a clever hoax to thicken the fog of mystery around this Colorado individual, but I’m bought. Out of the three tapes I’ve got from Lava Church Records this one got me interested the most. And while it’s nothing groundbreaking, it surely is mesmerizing.
It might seem that the idea behind this record stemmed from starting at the cold, silent and snowy Rocky Mountains one day. Despite the rather generic image of space adoring the j-card, the cassette plays more like a soundtrack to the wind blowing on the higest peaks of the Rockies during the coldest and blackest night. The sound on the tape might be described as meditative, but it’s not the calm, cosmic New Agey meditation of, say, late Greg Davis. It’s a bleak, minimal study on extreme conditions – like the aforementioned mountain peaks, or, indeed outer space. Spires shows the outer space like it really is for fragile, weak creatures like us– it’s not beautiful, it’s not breathtaking, it’s inhumanly cold, empty and endless. Just like “Eyes Become Dust”, which take up the entirety of side B – despite being “only” 14 minutes long, it stretches beyond its time and becomes a frostbitten, alienating sound tapestry seeping from the speakers and sending shivers of cold through your spine.
What would’ve served as a melody in other ambient records is long gone here, smothered by abstract, glitchy experimentation operating with high-pitched white noise drones and unsettling synth wails reminiscent of early, Elusive Lunar Bow era Bee Mask (“Puzzlebox”) or ghost-choir like metallic ambience filled with blows of cold wind reverbed for maximum unsettling effect. At times the cassette fills much closer to the dark ambient legacy of Lustmord than the rest of the “tape drone” scene, bringing images of MKULTRA experimentation and mysterious, hallucinogenic interrogation techniques. When getting to listen to Spires’ Puzzlebox prepare for a journey into the unknown. Not the most pleasurable unknown, but a very rewarding unknown.

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