If the whirrs and bustle of Quiet Forage, Fergus Kelly’s recent collaboration with David Lacey, evoked the interlocking processes of a vast clockwork ecosystem viewed at close range, Shot to Shreds is a far more enigmatic and aggressive affair. Gone are splosh and clank of Kelly and Lacey’s near-pastoral mechanics, the subtlety of construction emphasising their benevolent synthesis. Here, Kelly builds dense, mysterious structures, crushing and condensing his sonic source material – speaker feedback, no-input mixer, electronics, Dictaphone tapes, electromagnetic recordings, field recordings and samples – into thick, unrecognisable forms, like rocks subjected to extreme heat and pressure to warp their chemical structure into something new and different. These 11 pieces growl and grind with the propulsive power of a major seismic event, their overwhelming low-end throbs scratched across with static, and the occasional melancholic pulsations calling plaintively across the unyielding schist.
Yet despite the physical and (mostly) analogue nature of his sound sources, I’m reminded of those 90s laptop abusers sending out monolithic slabs of data noise, their bandwidth packed full of bytes corrupted into serrated, searing shapes. There’s definitely whiff of that in the seven tracks comprising side A’s Debris Field suite, in which Kelly’s huge, planar surfaces are as scarred and gnarled as those groovy monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey after a visit from some hopped-up arc welders. There’s an immensity to these cuts that resists any kind of easy assimilation, the heaviness of the competing layers of sound made more disorienting by abrupt shifts in volume and jump cuts of tone. Ominous, almost ambient drones lurching suddenly into jarring fields of grit. If you’d shoved a whole load of microphones deep into the earth’s crust to record the vast shifts and collapses over the past few millennia, this is a palimpsest of what it would sound like. Speaker ripping blurts of distortion falling into tectonic rumbles. Glowering silences becoming blackened, sedimentary assaults. At one point in Part IV, a shock of electric scuzz spits up from the claggy terrain, the sharpness of its sound against the greyscale backdrop like a firework bursting in a submerged cavern. It’s a rare moment of brightness among the churning, coal-dark decay.
The four compositions on side B lift the oppressive mood. Compared to the hefty faceted accretions of Debris Field, these seem almost conventional in form, somewhere between the shadowy ambience favoured by artists on the Denovali label (Petrels, Subheim, Sankt Otten and the like) and the edgier reaches of the soundtrack world. That’s nothing to be sniffed at, by the way – the e-bow and feedback chorale of Impact Spatter and creeping dread of Closing the Circuit give these pieces a human-centred feel that, while less challenging structurally, yields a more rewarding emotional hit. Discrete Oblique’s muffled loops are as familiar as a heartbeat, the slow cycle underpinning a collage of sampled voices and almost-there string decay, its cracked beauty made all the more empathic by its fleeting duration. The sibilant hiss and subwoofer hum of Cored, meanwhile, is the evil twin, human still but corrupted, Lord Vader playing Beckett’s Not I in the Death Star amateur dramatics group. Gradually it opens out into a ruined panorama of splintered vibration and malevolent wheeze before being forced into a claustrophobic locked-groove of eternal repetition, as inexorable as the orbit of a dead world round a dying sun.