POPULOUS was made available as a free download from the Quantum Natives website in May following on from last year’s Fission, a cassette and digital release put out by Mantile last November. Its eight tracks function as movements in a single, longer piece, marking out a distorted nocturnal soundscape. Beats, synths and loops bay and clash in a dystopian urban nightmare.
At first, the album seems like some cavalier hotchpotch created by some attention deficit crazyhead let loose in the matrix. Yet closer attention reveals a dense, carefully crafted work, reminiscent of other geniuses of the fractured digital landscape, Autechre perhaps, or Flying Lotus.
But where Autechre’s aim seems to be to scour any last vestiges of the human from their work, with the result of creating pieces resembling self-organising data swarms, Brood Ma’s dissonant worlds have a corporeal feel, a squealing, squelching organism. Musically, there are nods to grime, to hip-hop, to noise-inflected techno and avant electronica. Yet everything is welded to Brood Ma’s singular take on the corrupted vortex of the city.
Opener Ferite core demonstrates this to the max, a collage of croaks and groans over a tinny electro beat. As the record progresses, however, there is a growing feeling that something is not quite right. If these are bodies, they’re under pressure, pushed to their limit.
FORTRAN’s vast, empty sound gives us a clue what’s going on. Mangled beats, punctuated by occasional bursts of white noise, the piece wheels around, punch drunk. Arrhythmic timpani samples pound ominously. It’s like some ominous piece of sci-fi synth – Kuedo or Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack – duffed up by a bunch of boiler-suited droogs.
Each subsequent piece seems to take us deeper and darker. Esteem’s skittering machine code is a drive round the city at night, when all right-thinking people are tucked up in bed. Trebly, off-centre loops stagger as elegiac synth line floats over the top. The bars are closed, the kebab shops shut up.
POPULOUS is a stark imagining of the submerged systems of exploitation and power that drive our urban environments. It captures those moments when you see the skull beneath the skin, the fly at the end of your fork. The horror.