‘Skinless X-1′ is Fire-Toolz’ latest full-length album for Chicago’s Hausu Mountain label, after 2017’s exceptional ‘Drip Mental’ (and its Bedlam Tapes-released companion, ‘Interbeing’) – and it’s a bloody riot. Across 13 tracks of tumultuous upheaval, slicks of vaporwave synth get sprayed by intense screamo yowls, soulful hair-metal guitar lines waltz across fields of glitching drift, and k-pop euphoria skedaddles after bristling malware abrasion. Genre boundaries aren’t so much transgressed as booted down with frantic abandon, and their remains glued back together into a shimmying Technicolor piñata.
For those not familiar with the singular Fire-Toolz vibrations, the whole thing may well seem like a gaudy, splattered mess. Think ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ recreated in dayglo plasticine, the product of a restless brain with too many Netscape browsers open at once and a shonky dial-up connection. Stick with it, however, and you’ll find that Fire-Toolz – aka computer noise freak Angel Marcloid – is an astute sound sculptor, capable of carving a datacentre’s worth of digital artefacts into subtle and complex masses. True, the sonic architecture may initially be bewildering. But prolonged exposure yields all sorts of treasures. To dive into the pastel headrush of ‘Screamography’, for example, is to immerse yourself in a divinely obnoxious mash-up of ‘Oblivion’-era Grimes – all cartwheeling electronics and wide-eyed drum patterns – and larynx-shredding vocal histrionics that wouldn’t be out of place in a mid-2000s Khanate cassette.
But what makes ‘Skinless X-1′ different to so many other post-internet glitchcore records is Fire-Toolz’ careful interweaving of human and machine sonics. Alongside all those synths, drum machines and abstract noises are vocals, piano and guitar – all of which bring extra wit and subtlety to the frenetic overload. So, those tangy guitar loops that recur through ‘Interbeing’ are an urbane counterbalance to the clotted junglist barf that smashes its serene textures into volcanic chunks. Later, the meditative piano and earnest plainsong croons of ‘Fortunate Isle’ bring gushes of dreamy calm to the record’s final quarter.
In fact, there’s plenty of soothing respite to be found between all of the maximalism. On ‘Response to Subdivisions’, the cut ‘n’ paste pugilism falls away, leaving lush amniotic pools that reward full immersion. ‘In The Computer Room At Dusk’ adds suitably crepuscular touches, its melancholic sweep pulling no punches in its ‘Breakfast Club’-style emosh surge. And if that all sounds too …ambient, there’s still the caffeinated junk-techno of ‘Proxy Bay’, which flicks the switch for one final push before retiring, (dis)gracefully, all available binaries shattered.