Michael D. Donnelly: Urge to Swarm

Wasted Capital Since 2013 (WC8), C25 cassette 2014

This new release on Louie Rice’s Wasted Capital label, from post-rock veteran Michael D Donnelly, veers interestingly towards conventional song structures. It’s unusual, given the label’s rather parched aesthetic, but thankfully Donnelly – alumnus of underground rock outfits Rothko and Delicate AWOL – keeps the songwriterly flourishes firmly in check, rolling out a suite of dense, corroded compositions. Melodic components are smeared with grit. Structural elements break into noise and debris as often as they give form to the glowering squalls. Deep bassy drones and synth chords predominate, often carving pitted furrows across the pieces, like the tracks of huge vehicles on a devastated landscape.

Yet every piece seems to seethe with barely repressed energy, hiss and static pushing through the gaps in the structure and higher-pitched drones and frequencies undermining what would be the monolithic bass rumbles. It is a play of repression and escape, structures teetering on the point of collapse, systems unable to contain the turbulent energies within.

Side A is particularly pitted and scrunched. A Mask of Woeful Bone’s queasy, shimmering keyboards cast an oily pall, as what sounds like an outboard engine sputters, as if on its last legs. The sudden explosion into glaring noise is positively blissful, an all too short eruption of joyful destruction, cut suddenly to silence. Box Room is a shuddering mass of deep synth blurbs and blasts, its descending bass chimes calling out into dead air.

Things continue to develop on Side B, its three tracks laying out scarred bass drones and blank keyboard chimes, their ominous feel emphasised by insistent rhythms. On Spittle Flecked, a metronomic thudding is less like a drum, more like a ghostly knocking, while Root About the Carcass’s undulating throb is the sound of a storm’s inexorable advance. On the title track, the descending bass wave is back, its gloopy depthlessness offset by a sickly, high-pitched tone and a gristly bed of static. Together the three elements bring the track to an almost hysterical level of intensity.

Urge to Swarm dramatises the idea of systems at their tipping point, before they are ripped asunder by forces they can no longer contain. In those last pitiful seconds, we hear decrepit technology running down, unable finally to carry on the job of containment, or casting out distress flares, signals that mourn the loss of power and privilege as much as they call for help. It’s too late. The centre can no longer hold. New forces are about to be unleashed, opening up transformative possibilities, new utopias. That cacophony just coming into earshot?  It’s the sound of confusion. The noise of freedom.




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