Less shot through the head with a diamond bullet than being walloped repeatedly with a crystal hammer, Maria W. Horn’s ‘Excitation – Frustration – Excitation’ matches elegance with brutality in admirably brain-wrenching fashion. Tough kickdrums and serrated noise jags serve the pain, their unquiet digital gristle occasionally recalling Ben Frost at his glowering best. The title track is a fine example, its percussion stomping holes in the space time continuum through which pour gibbering waves of sleety, saturated howl.
Despite all that slurry, Horn’s compositions have a stony grandeur that impress as much as they terrify. Rapid-fire squelches, carousel synths and silky keystroke jabs lift things from the abyss, their textures nodding towards the disco, even if Horn keeps things awkward and arrhythmic. The clubby bleeps of ‘Voluntary Auto Intoxication’ sparkle in the spluttering backdrop like gemstones set into a cliff-face, while the steely, D&B-tastic tessellations of ‘Vitreous Body’ snap together with the intricacy of a clockwork Autechre lurching through a rainstorm.
It’s an ability to switch away from the stock widescreen gestures of the noise bros that makes this tape, and Horn in general, such a compelling listen. Horn is relatively rare among electronic music makers in that she is as comfortable weaving long-form drone pieces as she is constructing fizzing bursts of computer music. Interested listeners should check out her ‘Magenta/Long Arms’ split EP with Insect Arms for some solid examples of the former (‘synthetic doom’ is how she describes it). But it’s the dark-star twinkles and concrete-mixer barfs of ‘Diverted Units’, her 2016 12-inch for Holodisc, that bring these two areas of Horn’s expertise together.
The jittery fireworks of ‘Excitation – Frustration – Excitation’ are another step forward, transforming its predecessor’s synthesis of extremes into something more synergistic. These glassy shards may be far from dance floor sleekness – thank gawd – but, in replacing ergonomics for polyhedral toughness, Horn ensures there are plenty of thrills built into her tape’s all-too-brief runtime.