Peter J. Taylor’s second tape for Tombed Visions as School House offers up monolithic slabs of titanium drone and cloudy drifts of flotation tank ambience in a match-winning one-two of transistorised brilliance.
Anyone who is anyone knows that Taylor’s previous offerings have focused on the guitar, in particular on compositions for large-scale ensembles, extending that undulating territory first mapped out by no-wave maestros like Rhys Chatham and Glen Branca. So this is a departure for him, although listeners will discern some similarities with Soft Focus, his first Tombed Visions release, which, despite retaining guitars in its composition, set down the markers for the trail Taylor blazes with Herd.
It’s impressive stuff. Side A majors on the alien overlord vibes, with oppressive synths and drones in full effect. Opener Perceivable Attraction fires out a beam of lazer-guided pulsations, fading in slowly, but finally achieving a cortex melting level of scorching intensity, like some steampunk deathray reducing sleepy English market towns to glowing piles of embers. Scratches of electro percussion are just about discernible from around the halfway mark but it’s the hard, weatherproof drones that are the key focus here, drilling immutably through soft flesh even as a funky oscillator scrub steps to it, and then suddenly dubs itself out, leaving only the darkest of dark matter to remind us that we still exist.
After that, Surface Water struggles somewhat to meet the dead-eyed majesty of its predecessor. Nevertheless, it is a strong attempt, with spooky, atonal atmospherics redolent of bleak spaces, abandoned buildings and strange presences. Those hard, scoured surfaces and chattering beat patterns are back too, the atemporal drones pulling the track’s linear forward momentum into weird contoured undulations.
Meanwhile, on the other side, frame-filling confrontation is replaced with enigmatic foreboding punctuated by heavy kick-drum reverberations. The release blurb cites Wolfgang Voigt’s GAS project as reference point here, but for me Taylor’s explorations have a sharper, tangier edge. If anything I’m reminded of the stark minimalism of Richard Skelton’s River Song or elizabeth Veldon’s The Frost Is Setting In. Like them, Taylor captures some of the occult power of nature here, in the way his piece’s gradual unfurling reveals massive, unstoppable, unknowable forces.
Persona starts in a similarly minimalist vein, its slow synth explorations subsumed by a low-frequency thrum as if someone has plugged a microphone into the national grid. When an unsettling fuzzy shimmer appears I’m convinced that we’re listening to an improv session crewed exclusively by electrical pylons. A pylon jam band. How cool is that? After the halfway point, however, form starts to emerge from the void, with waves of synth adding texture and warmth as a suitably martial kick drum drives things forward.
The tectonic shifts of this latter half are the sonic equivalent of gazing at a mountain landscape, the rate of change not always discernible to the human eye, but the processes that drive it always in motion. And so by the end of the track, when a huge cycles of distortion obliterate everything in their path, we can only ponder: how did we get here? And how long will we last?