The crystalline flora of Undiscovered, Missing Organs’ début tape, has darkened on this follow up on Manchester’s Sacred Tapes imprint. The five compositions here are like a field of icebergs cast in coal, their obsidian facets glinting in a pale winter sun. Their dense, ominous shapes, sculpted from strata of synth, drum machine and guitar, have some similarity to label mate John Powell Jones’ Abyss series in their creeping heaviness, although there’s a fuzzy softness at the edges of Jones’s work that’s absent here. Instead, there’s a carbon solidity to Hard Walls that presents itself in digital clarity rather than Jones’s analogue chiaroscuro, with pieces such as the marvellously oppressive Sky Bistro looming up like mysterious structures created in Minecraft and viewed through a tablet touch-screen. Sky Bistro’s narrow-band, nauseously phasing tones are almost migraine inducing as they fizz and hum like malignant spotlights swinging across a scorched landscape, letting nothing escape their merciless gaze. It’s my stand-out track, but the rest of the tape is moodily stunning too, and wouldn’t seem out of place on Jason Lescalleet’s Glistening Examples label. Even the sulphurous black metal churn of In is rendered in high-def clarity, its mineral grain repeating endlessly under magnification like fractals borne out of dark matter.
If this all has something of a chilling effect, that’s not an entirely bad thing. Hard Walls plunges us into a dystopian, alienated landscape, one where the consolations of humanism aren’t so much in retreat as crouching in a basement cupboard, scared out of their wits. Imagine the wide-eyed visions of Carl Craig’s More Songs About Food and Revolutionary Art injected with a salutary dose of pessimism, the sci-fi dreams of new ways of living that those Detroit explorers promised having long turned sour. You can hear this in the bitter machine triumphalism of Wounded Twenty Ten – a national anthem for the circuit boards that rule the Matrix – or in the paranoid musings of Sava, where a solitary kick drum and queasy synth wibbles underpin a muttered monologue that sees psycho-geographic menace in urban bricks and mortar and grimness at every turn. “The city remains unclean and unfinished…how do you rebuild a city that’s been destroyed dozens and dozens of times?” Later on, a harsh repeating tone pulses, its serrated thrums less alarm than warning, a curfew, perhaps or an air raid. It’s reminiscent of Chris Marker’s La Jetée in its mystery, an audio file beamed back from a ruined future and appearing amid a desolate present.