I’m not sure what Steve Flato has been putting in his tea but the past few months have seen him let loose on a welcome burst of activity. The tail-end of last year saw the release of Aggressive Indifference, documenting a meeting with expert sound manipulator Alan Jones, followed in 2017 by Sustain, a set of solo works (mostly) using guitar and the Gizomotron bowing device, and a brace of other collaborations: a further Flato-Jones piece, occupying one side of a fine split release on Astral Spirits, and In The Garden Of Eating, a Stockhausen-inspired slice of gastro-jamming with cellist T.J. Borden. Most recent is this might not be successful but at least i tried, a rather beautiful sliver of sadface lament composed for a festival in San Diego. All of them are worth your time and cash, although those who share Flato’s twin predilection for sustained tones and carefully thought-through processes will find the Borden meet-up and solo Gizmo outing particularly satisfying.
For me, however, it’s Flato’s work with A.F. Jones that hits the spot. Jones’s focus on the grizzlier end of the sound spectrum, the radio hiss and electrical crackle, complements Flato’s gleaming, translucent drones, and both have an attention to detail that means every second of their joint endeavours deserves close attention. Aggressive Indifference was recorded in October 2016 and sees the duo mobilizing a palette of guitars, lap steel, electronics and samples to create a wide-open soundscape, with a remarkable spacey heft whose toughness is leavened by occasional lyrical interludes. Clocking in at just under half an hour, its auditory drift switches between Montreal–flavoured postrock at its most haunted and deadpan electroacoustic grumble. There may be a little too much going on for the drone purists, but this dynamic range takes Aggressive Indifference through a whole load of twisty new places. There’s a great swerve at about seven minutes, when a dirty heave of drone rapidly fades out, to be replaced by a frantic, echoing string-rub that could almost have been cut and pasted in from an ancient avant-garde bootleg, before the onrushing tide of clanking metal and motorized whine rematerializes. It’s an engulfing, euphoric torrent.
Stress Tensors is an 18-minute slice of gritty electroacoustic itch, with a close-in focus that’s a nice contrast to Aggressive Indifference’s macro scale, released as half of a split tape with Marcus Rubio’s More Eaze project. Rubio’s side is nice and bonkers, with hollering synthetic warbles morphing into gloopy ambient pop, before closing out with some proper drunk-uncle-at-the rave grooves. Flato and Jones, meanwhile, lay down a series of probing sonic vignettes that, despite the somewhat linear structure, avoid the low-hanging fruit of narrative progression or emotional builds. Instead, the duo keep things deceptively simple, roving like a camera eye across a landscape dotted with enigmatic artefacts. An early section of reverberant excavatory clunks is musty and atmospheric, then motor-machine grumble gives way to shiny sine moan, and a sheet of warped static grizzle drips across solitary percussive knocks. There seems to be a tussle between smoother and rougher textures going on throughout, with jittery steel-wool scuzz mooching around elongated metallic tones in a recurring dance. They come together towards the end, in a warm beds of radio-ham fuzz and high-pitched gurgle that finally synthesize into a rushing, grotty balm. Lovely, detailed stuff.