Fire Is the Mouth of the Snake
(Disaro / Squalor Victoria)
It could be argued that the East Tennessee one-man electronic outfit Slow Head is more philosophically in-line with Mozart’s Divertimentos―music made to be amiable backdrops―rather than dance-oriented contemporaries like Daft Punk or Justice. Slow Head shares certain sonic qualities with modern peers, due to recording techniques and particular effects used, and also some new-wave-era synthetic aesthetics, but its apparent purpose sets it apart, choosing not to pump out dance-floor populating four-on-the-floor monoliths and opting to create mind-clearing pieces. It’s perhaps like an oxygen tent filled with stainless steel furniture, where worn-out post-rave partiers assemble in the pre-dawn hours to gather their bearings.
Released on vinyl and as a digital download, Slow Head’s latest, Fire Is the Mouth of the Snake, should not be approached with the expectation of an earthshaking electronica album, but instead, it nicely conveys a careful, pensive mood, typically featuring three or four intersecting paths or curving lines, usually with no single melody dominating the picture at a given time―it is all balanced counterpoint. “Plumed Serpent” uses contrasting forces, anchored by a thick, penetrating bass drum and beatbox handclap underneath Slow Head’s characteristic glittering synth threads, and “The Pearl” builds gently and subtly, with an insistent drum machine shuffle and warm strata of artificial tones, featuring a simplicity that seems oddly cerebral. Several remixes top off the album, including one highlight mixed by teen rookie bedroom producer Shisa, “Twelve Macaw,” which is a tremolo maelstrom with a fuzzy, treated-static sound sucking in and out over a simple beat, creating a mesmerizing concoction. For the final track, Slow Head remixes the track “Alt. Mode” by cohort Optimus Prom, applying slightly warped, purposefully intonationally challenged synth inebriants, applying its trademark sound while slipping under the backdrop of another play.
The formidable instrumental trio Rangda―featuring guitarist Richard Bishop (formerly of Sun City Girls), Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance also on guitar, and drummer Chris Corsano (who has backed Björk)―takes its name from the Balinese demon queen, sharing her ferocity in spirit. Rather than bearing any noticeable Indonesian musical influences, although Bishop is well-versed in southeast Asian music, Rangda sounds like it could be the theoretical result of having spaghetti western soundtrack composer Ennio Morricone starting a garage/math rock band. Alternately blistering and smoldering, Bishop and Chasny use just enough distortion to make a meaty sound but not too much to muddy the waters and hide the players’ nimble precision, heard on frequent breathtaking runs, and Corsano has a tight, driving style with machine-gun eruptions and a sense of urgency while keeping a measured pace. Following the excellent debut False Flag, the trio’s second album Formerly Extinct expands upon the group’s damaged wild west style into a few new welcome forays.
“Idol’s Eye” launches the album with guitar lines that could be student etudes for building chops; as vigorous as it is, one still gets the feeling that the group is holding back a little on the track, never quite delivering the expected release. “Silver Nile” is a little frustrating, slowly burning for nine minutes, taking its sweet time, before finally reaching a furious conclusion that ends abruptly. The album’s first half just seems like a warm up for the superior second half, with exhilarating numbers like “Plugged Nickel,” featuring a disorienting 5/4 time signature anchored by Corsano and an energetic post-rock-esque approach. “Majnun” channels a tandem-guitar attack with Bishop and Corsano in unison, and “Goodbye Mr. Gentry” is a nice diversion, being tuneful and not-at-all menacing, quite possibly the only Rangda track that could be described as “gleeful.” Formerly Extinct works best when the players push themselves, in terms of fury and method, right up to their limits.