Lava (06.2010, Hidden Shoal)
For: Fennesz, Tim Hecker, Kevin Greenspon
Byline: Blissed out tones and buzzing guitar drones define this album by German ambient-drone musician Markus Mehr.
The Pace is Glacial was both the title of Seam's 1998 album and an obvious in-joke describing nineties slowcore band's propensity for writing meandering, molasses paced songs. Markus Mehr's aptly titled Lava is cut from the same cloth, an apt title as well as a transparent jab at his wandering, ambient compositions. Mehr builds monoliths out of buzzing, oscillating swells of metered noise cutting deep crevices across the porous surface of cooling granite-slab of the mind. Yes, it is that kind of thing. Mehr's compositions are submerged beneath a tumultuous sea of swirling guitar tones that ride the biting edge of gorgeous and foreboding. The whole listening experience is spent in anticipation of the moment when that menacing snarl hijacks the pretty subtones, and reversed-jet engine propulsion and turns it back on itself creating head-exploding blast-beats and reverse time-lapsed nuclear explosions. None of that really happens though, Mehr keeps riding that knife edge deep-sea diving into yawning abysses of ghost-like skeletal guitar drones and no-input noise feeds. It would be easy to classify this solely as music for the mind, the incandescent sustained tones of "Hubble" and rhythmic pulse of droning static of "Costeau" certainly suggest this, but the most maligned track "Up Sturz" has the most tangible relation to the earthbound. "Up Sturz" tracks Mehr's homemade recording aesthetic closest to its source. Comprised of ear-splitting dial tones pitch-shifted to the brink of listenability, Mehr filters these harsh tones into a rhythmic ebb and flow of menacing, cracked industrial beats that reach a cacophonous climax that eventually wind itself down into a magma-like death crawl to the end of the track. As the album title predicts, Lava takes its time getting to places. The off-axis drift is felt more than a steadily canter towards some sort of definable goal. In this blissful wanderlust Mehr succeeds in spades creating a completely engrossing, engaging and all together reliable album full of the most powerful ambient-drone tracks this year.
Markus Mehr and visual artist Stephanie Sext