At this moment in time, experimental electronic music has never had it so good. After a period of time in the 90s and early 2000s when the term “IDM” was rife, and a dearth of ideas led to ever diminishing returns, highly challenging experimental fare is in abundance. Why then, does it so often seem as if we’re actually starved of genuinely original electronic music? Although the internet has arguably led to much genre cross-pollination, a lot of what we get is just subtle riffing on established sounds; in the case of Tri Angle artists How To Dress Well, Holy Other and oOoOO, it’s an admiration of contemporary R&B motifs. Tri Angle’s artists make it feel very much like a label of the internet age – they all seem to be isolated, sometimes anonymous figures whose interaction with the wider musical world is performed remotely via the internet rather than by interacting with other human beings on a local level. It often seems that Tri Angle is a microcosm for what is happening with electronic music as a whole – when we can learn all we need from a terminal in our bedrooms, where’s the impetus to forge localised bonds and create music with other human beings?
Seb Gainsborough, otherwise known as Vessel, bucks this trend. Not only does Order Of Noise not sound like a Tri Angle album, but it’s one of the most strikingly original albums, debut or otherwise, this year. Gainsborough doesn’t fit the established Tri Angle narrative; as part of Bristol’s Young Echo collective he collaborates with a close knit group who seem to exist outside all established musical scenes, and their regular internet broadcasts show them to have broad tastes, with Hieroglyphic Being as likely to appear as Pinch. Rather than explicitly reworking established tropes, they throw everything into a blender until the elements are unrecognisable. On his early single for left_blank for instance, Gainsborough showed himself to be adept at sketching out abstract house, techno, and garage shapes with a singularly grubby palette of sounds, sitting somewhere between Four Tet and James Holden’s organic modular trance and the hazy dub of Actress. On Order Of Noise he largely jettisons dancefloor concerns for a foggy amalgamation of drifting soundscapes and percussive experimentation. It recalls the sketch based structure of Actress’ R.I.P, as well as the dense, chugging techno of Andy Stott’s Passed Me By, and though the comparisons between Vessel and the two producers are plain to see, truth be told, Order Of Noise is a much better album than both of them.
It’s difficult not to hear echoes of Bristol’s rich soundsystem culture in the album; both opener “Vizar” and “Stillborn Dub” deploy warm sub-bass as a cushion for their warm yet disenchanted vocal cuttings. The attention to detail on reverb and atmospherics on the latter is palpable; metallic drum hits ring out with mathematical precision, and the track name is especially poignant given that it sounds the aural representation of being trapped inside a haunted womb, while “2 Moon Dub” is the most obvious reference to Bristol’s dub heritage, a combination of low slung bass guitar and sluggish snares that sound like an Adrian Sherwood production with a liberal coating of plaster on top. Despite a claustrophobic air to the album, Gainsborough never ceases to find ways to make his tracks sound expansive; although the melody of the six-minute “Lache” is caked with rust and obscured by a paranoid, slow-moving fog, it slowly gives way to a triumphant section of synthetic strings, while “Aries” uses blasts of high frequency sound to counter the sludgy mush of bass and indiscernible drum hits.
If there’s any album released this year Order Of Noise feels most like, it’s Jam City’s Classical Curves. Although stylistically a million miles apart, they both construct their rhythms into angular, serrated tessellations; rather than rolling forwards they either jerk out at right angles or fold inwards, never really feeling like they were constructed to dance to but forcing your body into spasmodic contractions. “Plane Curves” has all the rigid drive and distant tinpot clatter of Jam City’s “How We Relate To The Body”, the steroid-filled arpeggio of “Court Of Lions” could almost pass for Italo disco if it wasn’t so schizophrenic, while “Scarletta” is like dubstep distilled down to pure rhythmic binary code. Packing huge amounts of detail around their pulsing kicks, these aren’t mere club tracks, and while someone like Actress often gets down to the molecular level of rhythmic music in much the same way, the results can often feel unfinished. Gainsborough has a similar interest in the finer details of sound but he combines it with a verse/chorus mentality that places a tangible sense of space in your head.
Of course Order Of Noise doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but the point is that it sounds like it does. For all the obvious influences that have gone into making this album, they never feel particularly present; “Temples”, perhaps the most freeform track on the album, culls from noise and ambient drone but without any of the tired masculine associations of both. It genuinely sounds like music from another planet. That Order Of Noise is so original and that Gainsborough is part of something like Young Echo cannot be a coincidence; it’s certainly a solo album, but one that has its feet firmly rooted in a the locality of Bristol, and a group who largely manage to work outside the dialogue of the wider musical world, creating their own unique language.
2. Stillborn Dub
3. Images Of Bodies
7. 2 Moon Dub
9. Plane Curves
11. Court Of Lions