Peter J. Taylor’s School House project returns for more dense, glacial electronica, following a pair of outstanding releases on Manchester’s Tombed Visions label (read my review of 2015’s Herd here). This time round Taylor has spun the titanium threads of his beatless incrementalism into two long tracks whose pulsing microtonal splinters could almost be described as ambient music, were Taylor not so successful at paring back almost all vestiges of humanity from his compositions. Instead, we get a kind of terrified party music for the machine city, Taylor marshalling his frozen sonic strata with an aloof vigour that could, in the wrong hands, morph into full-on authoritarian disdain that would have the more questionable fringes of the power electronics scene jumping for joy.
Fear not, however. There’s something about Fade that, somehow, allows a very human melancholia to seep in through its almost invisible fissures. Whether this is cunning sound design, like the architect of the Matrix building fallibility and empathy into its source code as a fail safe against crushing totalitarianism, or accident, doesn’t really matter. In any case, given Taylor’s words on Fade’s Bandcamp page – “I don’t want to make happy songs or sad songs. I want to make music that demands you to feel conflicted by its tone” – I suspect that this cyborg ambiguity is very much a part of the strategy. So, like it or not, you get nuanced and detailed works, oppressive enough to leave you gasping for air even as the old ticker swells with a heartbroken euphoria, the myriad greys tinged with shades of indigo.
In fact, side A’s What We Said Can Never Be Undone is, at times almost funky, the chattering oscillations of its opening six or seven minutes coming on like the first bars of the best trance set you’ve ever heard. A distant gong-like drum adds a forward momentum that has the unavoidable whiff of retro-futurist transport infrastructure. It’s all fun, fun, fun on the dual carriageway until Taylor takes the groove away, piling on layers of cavernous synths that unfurl with interlocking phases that turn your brain inside out like a syringe of antifreeze to the eyeball, their snail-like pace only adding to the inexorable might. The numbed, disorientating effect is heightened even more by a slow fade-out that occupies the last five or so minutes of the piece, which isn’t so much a gentle leave taking as the gradual desertion of a lifeless body.
Despite those final minutes of desolation, I can’t help feeling that What Was Said… matches density with an almost empathic outward reach, its almost-grooves at once pointing to the communal euphoria of the dancefloor even as it threatens submission to its all-encompassing surge. In contrast, Gran (D) is minimalist rather than maximalist, its cold fingers aimed inwards to the dark depths of introversion. At first, it seems as if we‘ll be treated to a right of slice-up, as a buzz saw attack sharpens its teeth while preparing to flay the skin from your bones. But then the track slides effortlessly into a diaphanous net of slowly morphing drones that cloud the middle range. These seem almost illusory at times, taunting us with an ethereal stillness that, nevertheless, has the power to stop time. Across the top end, frantic oscillations punch through the haze, not so much a diamond bullet to the forehead as an interminable car alarm slicing through a post-sleep murk. It’s calm, almost – a recital of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians seen through the vicious haze of a three-day bender.
Fade is an uncompromising, impressive achievement. It’s another success for Taylor and a third essential release from Bezirk Tapes (its first two tapes, Kib Elektra’s Blemishes and IXTAB’s Alea also come highly recommended). Get ready to be overwhelmed.