Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Looking Back In Anger

The highlights of last night's concluding episode of BBC 4's In Their Own Words were undoubtedly a 1984 interview of Martin Amis with Germaine Greer, and Salman Rushdie's 1988 combover. (Srsly: he's better off these days without that scrap of hair.) The former was a revelation simply because no book programme or newspaper would employ an interviewer so clear-sighted and prepared to point out and undermine Amis' numerous hypocrisies and crude political/social simplifications, choosing instead to send ego-bolsterers paid to transcribe and kowtow to his ever-expanding sentences. Greer pointed out that the structuring disgust and class-anxiety of Amis' Money are not only impulses directed at the Other, but of self-hatred: "now, in this being rational, you're talking like Martin Amis the writer [who appears as a character in Money], not Martin Amis the real-life person... you've got a certain amount of John Self in you." It was another remark in that interview that marks out the major deficiency of the 'literary giants' of 1970-90 that Gabriel Josipovici castigated a couple of weeks back (in an argument pre-written and argued more convincingly by Hugh Kenner in his '88 volume A Sinking Island), one which arguably preconditions their timidity of form and subject-matter: a belief that poisonous cynicism is the only proper response of art to the modern world. "Probably every writer thinks their period is the nadir of history", Amis said; it remains rather obvious that he thought this, albeit with the proviso of self-consciousness, and the hedge-betting statement: "What we can say is that the world is getting infinitely less innocent". Rushdie, discussing Midnight's Children in the days when he had hair, talked about how the 'optimism' of Indian independence had been destroyed and betrayed - and how, for his characters, optimism was a disease to be caught and avoided. Of course, we know where Amis' stance lead to: the barely-cloaked Islamophobia of The Second Plane, an ugly and seemingly ineradicable misogyny and a spiral of ever-lowering expectations that has produced only one good book in the last 20 years (London Fields, since you ask). The sneering maxim that the only response to belief - in the future, in the barest existence of human love and goodness - is equal scorn against all such belief, that such things belong only to the "innocent" and should be cast aside by the clear-sighted artist, is a choice of enervation, a refusal to face the hard work of happiness. Amis' and Rushdie's 'realism', alongside all that of their generation of writers and intellectuals (most notably, that of Amis' former New Statesman compatriot Christopher Hitchens) is a cloak for ideology, for that naked contempt for humanity that underpins all reactionary thought, the well-mannered nihilism of the neo-liberal ruling classes - the capitalist realism that has little to do with reality, and everything to do with capitalism. The heroic gesture of throwing off illusions, the work of apparent demystification that neo-liberal capitalism sets so much store by, is in fact an ever greater set of scales for the eyes: the illusion of disillusionment. It gives us some idea just how small and paltry their worlds are, and their imaginations. The greater, harder work now is optimism, thinking that we can be genuinely happy: a thought that leads us not to Amis' middlebrow disguised airport thrillers, but to art that genuinely shocks and spooks us, that shakes the frame of our experience, that contains in its matrices the traces of another world.

Monday, August 23, 2010

To The Centre Of The City

The second in an occasional series of posts about the films the author loved.

"There never has been a choice for me."
--Travis Bickle.

"I am such a good man, at bottom, such a good man, how is it that nobody ever noticed it?"
--Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies.

You notice something else: the moment when Iris (Jodie Foster) enters her room in the brothel, and the camera stops up short with her, the 70s bead-shroud between her and us; turning, she calls to Travis (Robert de Niro), who has just barely opened the door a crack, nosing round it like a boy entering some domestic forbidden zone. That hesitation speaks volumes now: of the tenderness that accompanies Travis' almost total emotional arrestedness, of the refusal to face facts that accompanies his misanthropy and boasted realism ("you must see a lot as a cabby?"), and its basis in a sensitivity - of horror, of wrecked nerves - that ends up betraying its object. I watched Taxi Driver more times than I could count between the ages of 16 and 18, and, so my notebooks tell me, took to the self-righteous monologues, as you might expect from someone clumsily feeling their way into writing, reading Nietzsche, Camus, Beckett - "Listen, you fuckers, you screwheads: here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is a man who stood up." It is, of course, one of the most widely well-regarded films of the 1970s, but you wouldn't have known it when I first saw it: almost no young people whom I know have taken to it; these days it's a 'cult' film in the wrong sense, known by only a few, who will obsessively pore over it, quote and re-quote their favourite lines (though the "Are you looking at me?" monologue, from a scene almost entirely improvised by de Niro, retains its currency). When Ian Penman, probably the most perceptive critic of Taxi Driver in his famous 1984 essay on de Niro, says (I can't find the post) that it seems, in retrospective, adolescent and shrill, it is, perhaps this that he means: it rubs against the grain of our adult selves to the extent that we're embarrassed how literally (we) teenage viewers could take these spews of invective and violence.

This is somewhat surprising: de Niro was 32 when he played Travis, and I never, at the time, took him to be what I thought of as a young man. Rewatching, however, you can see the lengths he went to in order to make a character younger than the actor's years - the awkwardness of his posture, shoulders up, head in, hands in pockets, the blank look and hesitating speech, a personality sculpted into harsh and powerful lines out of apparent affectlessness. The first third of the film is almost painful to watch, so gawky is Travis, especially in his dealings with Betsy (Cybille Shepherd), who leans back and receives his naive tributes with an amused confidence so foreign to him. When he rocks up at the cab company, as Penman puts it, he "seems to have awoken from some cultural half-death, a baby yet to learn the city's syntax, its official slang"; with the other cabbies in the diner, he can't join in with the knowing laughs, precisely because he doesn't know, he can only communicate in 'Yeah's and 'No's.

That limbo of half-death, of course, was Vietnam - another detail I didn't pick up until years after I first watched it, perhaps because the name is never even spoken, and nothing mentioned of the nature of Travis' war. The conflict hangs in the background of the film, in its depiction of the Hobbesian life of mid-70s New York, and in the figure of Travis' planned war against "the scum": a man so torn up inside that he can't stop fighting against any target he might seize on - and, in this, a microcosm of America in and after Indochina. (The nature of his enemies - first a senator, then a pimp - is, in a sense, wholly unimportant.) Caught up in the tarnished nobility of the existential drama that occupies almost every frame, I missed out on this: the entire, massively important context of the disintegration of America, in spite of the presence of an enormous, obvious link to it in the form of Charles Palantine. Cambodia/Laos, Watergate, Kent State, the dying madnesses of the 60s (Manson, Altamont), the Weather Underground, Symbionese Liberation Army, the total poverty and civil breakdown of New York (that would form the backdrop to disco, the inverse to the intolerance of Travis' milieu), and the damaged sons, the unlucky ones who didn't come back in boxes (note how the cab drivers refer to the city's rough areas as "Mau Mau land"). There's a reason there's no hauntology of the American 70s: it was already crawling with ghosts, too (sur)real and lurid to fetishise. (Notably, the 70s is the high-point of that great American genres, the splatter-flick: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead, Cannibal Holocaust, Halloween, etc.; notably also, the critic Pauline Kael called Taxi Driver a horror film.) Travis' proto-punk mohican is particularly prescient in this respect: the gesture of self-mutilation-as-identity that would proliferate throughout American punk culture, starting in the lowlife strata of New York. Travis represents, in some sense, the evolution of those archetypes of 70s US cinematic masculinity patented by Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson (the latter especially in Five Easy Pieces and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest): "a spoor of doubt, confusion, ambivalence, dead ends. Masculinity was shown to be in a state of confusion and flux: caught between old sureties and new demands, old ideals and new realities... a site of unreliable excess" (Penman). Where Nicholson carries it (on) by an arsenal of twitches, sneers and cackles, de Niro rests it on the quality of his silences, the way his speech switches from inarticulate mumbles, to excessive brightness when speaking to the security guards at the Palantine rally, the way he averts his gaze absent-mindedly when people are speaking to him, the stare that seems not to even be looking at its object. Only occasionally does anger bristle from beneath the blankness, as when Travis grabs Betsy's arm when she flees the porno-theatre -his voice coarsening, shoulders setting. His deepening psychosis is conveyed not by madcap tics but a deepening withdrawal, behind matt shades, weaponry, a tough-guy exterior (assuming, perhaps, the self-reliant personae of western films - Sport and the other lowlifes always call him "cowboy"), ritual - an increasing unreadability. Two moments: in the middle of his self-training, as he watches a soap, the absolutely blank look on his face, the way his arm and leg move to shoot an empty pistol at the set, and rock it on its box, as if the limbs were completely unconnected with the rest of him; that close-up at the climax of the shootout: finger pressed to temple, face slathered with blood, eyes half-closed but sardonic, face split by a grin somewhere between relief, demonic revelry and school-boy pleasure. If the mark of a great performance is the extent to which the actor doesn't appear to be acting, then this is undoubtedly one of them: compare with de Niro in Mean Streets or Goodfellas, and you could hardly tell it was the same actor, aside from the face - he makes himself Travis, utterly.

The references to the Western - America's most persistent myth - aren't coincidental: the film is very often seen as a re-write of John Ford's The Searchers, with its quest for redemption through rescue of female innocence from the 'uncivilised'. Travis draws no distinction between the black characters he regards with such fear - pimps, the petty robber he kills in a grocery store - and the white criminals who populate Iris' world, the latter being racialised, Otherised, by association. As Kilgore (Robert Duvall) in Apocalypse Now would remind us 3 years later, the imagery of the cowboy, the rough-and-ready pioneer, carried a lot of currency among the US forces in Vietnam: American civilisation, founded on mass violence against the Other (the Indian burial ground under the Overlook Hotel), reiterates itself in south-east Asia and, stifled, back on the home front. (Taxi Driver's previous nearest rival for controversial film violence was Peckinpah's allegory of American decline, The Wild Bunch.)

Bernard Herrmann's score (his last - he died before the film was released) suggests another lineage: Hitchcock's channelling of the last major period of American paranoia, the 50s. Psycho, Rear Window and Vertigo dramatised the forces boiling beneath the surface of American prosperity and conformity - Soviet threat, the lacks of an oversupplied world, stifled sexuality - as psychic dissolution, proliferating and oversexualised gazes. Travis replicates Scottie (James Stewart) from Vertigo's obsession with the redeeming female (Kim Novak), in the form of first Betsy, then Iris, an obsession that ends in psychosis and death. The dynamic of Scottie and Madeline's relationship of reiterated in Travis' feelings towards the two women, and in de Niro's screen presence: as Kael points out, sex, in its naked form (excuse the pun) at least, is almost entirely absent (the closest we get is Iris unzipping Travis' jeans), but this total sublimation leaves its negated energy coursing under the surface throughout, a bottled-up force that explodes in the final burst of violence. De Niro as Travis is hardly sexy in the mid-70s Warren Beatty/Robert Redford sense, nor even in the time-honoured James Dean in Rebel..., troubled teen kinda way (if anything, his character is closer to the impotent Plato (Sal Mineo), the unstable gay best friend); he's remote in another sense - recessed, unreachable, the kind of person who, you think, if he could make contact from the deep region of inner space where he resides, break the shield of ego and make contact with the Other, might be OK, a decent human being, even a lover. The tragedy, of course, is that this is always-already impossible: his attempts to connect always go awry - taking in a porn-film on a first date, alarming Palantine with his small-talk, resolving to 'rescue' Iris although she hardly wants to be rescued.

Schrader and Scorsese make it very clear to us that neither Betsy nor Iris can or will fulfil the function that Travis delegates to them, as the component that will make him whole: they are the objects of an impossible desire, a desire that has to hold the Other at arm's length. (The usual whore/Madonna binary structures his entire experience of desire: Betsy is a Madonna whom Travis comes to regard as tarnished ("you're just like the rest of them"), Iris a whore whom he tries to turn back into a virgin.) Travis is a born voyeur, regarding the street-life he sees from his cab with equal fascination and repulsion, Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Chapman slowing and oversaturating Travis' POV shots of prostitutes and couples (and, of course, Betsy). Disgusted by the real bodies of the street-walkers, he nonetheless watches pornography. Scorsese's use of mirrors heightens this distancing effect: glancing into the rear-view as Palantine and a black prostitute go at it on the back seat; being asked by a jealous husband (played by Scorsese), whom he watches in the rear-view, to look at the silhouette of his adulterous wife ("You know who lives there? A n***** lives there"), an action mirrored in the rear-view image of Betsy that Travis gets when she hops into his cab after the final confrontation. (And, as with Rear Window, these scenes of projection implicate us, the viewers: what warped dreams of ours are we seeing played out, too?) For all the positive emotion and desire he expresses, he might just as well be an alabaster saint. And yet, the roughcut presence of de Niro bristles with a sense of warping, of danger and tenderness in equal measure, a sexiness that Travis himself, as Penman points out, seems unaware of. It carries resonance today, after the waning of the film's influence on rock and youth culture: the sense of desperation, of aching distance, of absolute loneliness and hopeful futility that de Niro conveys, is something that is still experienced. (I should know.)

He exemplifies the problem of the character who can never realise his good intentions, who, in spite (or, perhaps, because) of his wish to escape the downward spiral of his existence, never can do so. This relates, of course, to the warped sexuality and the ghosts of violence that drive him towards his end: as Penman notes, Travis' cab is "a diagram of the Freudian instincts: the (super) structure of cab/job gives him an excuse to keep going, working the city, keeping assignations and appointments. Inside, the eyes of this ego are not looking where they're going (which is nowhere anyway, as he does not choose the direction)... Hell - and, in this case, his unconscious - is other people". The unconscious drives (ha!) send him on, again and again, into the world he hates, in spite of his conscious reforming intentions, impelled by the forces inside himself he despises. It is, thus, a drama of impotence and conflicting impulses (Betsy: "I meant about the contradiction. You are that"). Travis' struggle is less against particular concrete enemies than against his own impotence in the face of a world he cannot control, cannot connect with, and cannot stand. His quest is to wrest power for himself, to use "true force" to shatter the world he can't live in. His thorough destruction of shooting-alley targets speaks of more than the wish to practice his aim; when he rocks his TV set back onto the floor, in a shot of sparks and smoke, it is as if the entire world had been snuffed out. He watches a music-show filled with couples dancing to typical mid-70s soft-rock, and the singer's voice asks his own question: "How long have I been sleeping?" - and, when will he awake? His violence, in a sense, is only for himself: when he speaks or acts, in front of the mirror, it's an enaction of narcissism, a spilling of internal rhetoric in order to bolster himself up, a power-play for which he is the only audience (Lacan: it's only at the mirror stage that the infant ego takes shape). It is a function of his unbreakable solitude: when he says, faux-streetwise, into the mirror, "I'm the only one here", we know, as Roger Ebert says, it's "the truest line in the film".

Rewatching, I was surprised by how little time elapses between Travis' first meeting with Sport, and the moment when he shoots him in the stomach. So much of the film is spent building up to what we (or rather I) know is going to happen: that unbearable leer at the police, finger against temple - "poom, poom, poom". Looking back, it seems absolutely crucial for Schrader and Scorsese to leave open the question of whether he survives, and the final scenes are fantasy or reality. Given the amount of (obviously fake) blood he had lost, it seems rather unlikely he would have survived, far less likely that, had he done so, he should be pardoned and rewarded for the murder of 3 men, criminals though they be. It is, perhaps, more rewarding to see this ending as the fulfilment of the unconscious impulse driving his quest: he set out knowing he would be killed, but it appears that he really desired the best of both worlds - the death of his enemies, and the reward of his actions in a continuing life. In this sense, it crystallises the overriding theme of Travis' stymied quest: the choice that the world presents to the living, in which there can be no half-measures - of fulfilment, the everyday happiness and social contact we see in the lives of others, or desolation, and ultimately death. The elect - the invisible church of those with the power to choose - and the majority, who cannot, will not be known until the day of judgement. Until then, we check the mirror, the stirring of the street. We will stop before the door, and wait for a voice.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Alibis #8

"To be asked, as Ian McKellen asked me, whether I was homosexual, was a bit like asking a man crawling across the Sahara whether he would prefer Perrier or Malvern water."
--Alan Bennett, Untold Stories.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Ten Songs 9: All-Electronica Special

1. Balam Acab - 'See Birds' (unreleased)

One of the many things I find myself enjoying against my better judgement: Joe Stannard probably put the case best by describing so-called 'witch house' as "neo-goth for hipsters" - the fetishisation of a suffering, a Thanatic impulse, written in the codeined exhaustion and sonic darkness of early gangsta and chopped-and-screwed hip-hop, to which middle-class white kids can only ever have a distanced relationship, if not one of outright appropriation. They're like the moody kids in school who read Invisible Man because they felt it expressed their Sturm und Drang. But but but: Alec Koone, a.k.a. Balam Acab's, productions really get to me, especially 'See Birds'. The rudimentary nature of its structure - a central, lumbering snare beat and bass-drop woven with surges of vocal and smeared synths turning its cavernous air black, noxious green, streaked yellow, dropping out occasionally to small chinks of light in the form of what might be guitar-plinks - is precisely what makes it so compelling. To a certain extent its bedroom-made origins are still audible in the way the elements don't quite mesh up, the way it seems more intent on holding a mood than sculpting a full sonic trajectory. As with so many of the producers working on what Kev Kharas, in the new Loops, calls "post-genre" dance (Actress, FaltyDL, Joy Orbison, Zomby, etc.), you can hear the imprint of Burial's reworking of 2-step's vocal-slivers, the crucial point of production where rhythm becomes texture becomes text becomes signifier - the hopeless yearning of voices without bodies - and sometimes voices / That, if I then had waked after long sleep, / Will make me sleep again. Music for taking the phone off the hook.

2. DJ Sprinkles - 'Ball'r (Madonna-Free Zone)' (from Midtown 120 Blues (Mule Muziq))

I came across Terre Thaemlitz's house project through Jon Dale, who included this album in his 2008 end-of-year round-up. It's beautiful, sensuous deep house tempered by the rigours of minimal - the intro is just 2 syncopated clicks and languid synth chords, haunted as it crawls on by slivers of diva-vocal and party-shouts - that fearlessly seeks to reconnect with the political roots of house. "House is not universal, house is hyper-specific - East Jersey, lower East side, the West side of Brooklyn" - and the queer communities who populated the early house clubs. There's no disjunct between the bookending monologues and the undisturbed, enveloping passage of the sound: the sound is politics, the politics sound.

3. Autechre - 'd-sho qub' (from Oversteps (Warp))

In what sense Oversteps is a chill-out album, as Nick Richardson claims in the new Wire, I'm really not sure. Certainly, it seems to be the record where the (strange-)dynamic duo have shaken off the alleged curse of abstraction (which was only a curse from a very narrow perspective) - the dub and b-boy electro fun of their roots seems to have finally resurfaced after successive albums slathered with false hope. The heavily reverbed, overbright synth-notes that call to mind steel drums and dancehall riffs, relocated to the bottom of the sea, something the hot-stepping snares and mysterious buzzes and clangs, no stranger to dub mixes reinforce. The rhythmic disruptions that haters have barked on about for years work here as intensifiers, shaking the listener's frames of reference, forcing you to constantly catch at what's going on - as with wonky, which has proved abstraction to be the charm it really is, it's a marker of novelty, of the ability to constantly reinvent itself.

4. Kode9 - 'Black Sun' (from 'Black Sun/2 Far Gone' 12" (Hyperdub))

The farthest yet that Kode9 has gone from dubstep and his exquisite downtempo productions into funky and house, sounds stripped back to bone: the shearing-metal claps, jumping and juddering bass, and reedy, strained synth chord hovering like infinitely sustained melodica. Always trembling on the edge of the void.

5. Shackleton - 'Moon Over Joseph's Burial' (from Three EPs (Perlon))

Is it strange that now, even the Skull Disco 12"s that Shackleton put out, so far ahead of the dubstep pack in their meticulously balanced beat-arrangements and bass weight, seem almost primitive? But they were also prescient: the line that the label's last releases - 'The Rope Tightens', 'Death Is Not Final', with its T++ remix, Appleblim's 'Circling' and particularly the Ricardo Villalobos remix of 'Blood On My Hands' - trod between the space of dubstep and techno's uncanny machine-motion prefigured the fertile hybridity of current UK bass music. So it is that last year's Three EPs, in which Shackleton's techno-fixation found fullest expression, has been one of my listening constants throughout the year, and no more so than this 8 1/2 minute wonder, which summons up precisely what was most strange about those early releases. Beginning with a loop that recalls their sampled Arabic hand-percussion, clipped and multiplied to techno BPMs, it swarms with synth-bleeps decaying almost before they've begun, building up and dropping out with loops of metallic rattling, stray dry clicks and increasingly strong, cyclic bass, until around the 5 1/2 minute mark, it reaches an eerie plateau, its bedrock ghosted by keyboard drone that calls up the snaking Arabic melodies of the early productions. This drops out to stuttering hand percussion and builds up again, and the radiant timbres of sampled voices breaks out over the track, the contrast of textures leaving us in no doubt about the nature of its haunting.

6. Actress - 'Hubble' (from Splaszh (Honest Jons))

I fell down a hole into the future.

7. Zomby - 'Spliff Dub (Rustie mix)'/Joker & Ginz - 'Stash' (from Five: 5 Years of Hyperdub (Hyperdub))

Yes, another latecomer. (Although I didn't learn of it from the Guardian.) I was one of the ones who didn't and couldn't scout this shit out, as no-one wished to offer a guide (Plan B, no doubt, would have managed it, but The Wire were certainly working at chocolate-fireguard levels of helpfulness), and you can't trust Boomkat mail-outs further than you can throw them, and you can't afford 12"s on a student loan. And, uh, yes, it's wonderful in the way that all unexpected pleasures are, but even more so, in operating precisely through an excess that sets the individual elements gloriously skewiff - the way, in particular, that wonky synths bend pitches from the expected, like their generators were dissolving in the heat (cf. dirty south's extrapolation of G-Funk's synth-fetish). Thus, contemporaneous with the stunning splurge of last year's 'Purple City', the first electronic strains of 'Stash', stretched over minimal hi-hats, halfway between Space Invader melodies and theremins, until the drop. Echoing half-step snares provide the architecture for stuttering, malfunctioning bass synth, that, after a minor drop-out, builds up again to swarming blurts of treble, like being caught in a cloud of gelatinous bees. And thus, at the other pole of wonky, the opening moments of 'Spliff Dub', in the dub-abstracted rasta vocal of the original severed and edited into a Burroughsian cut-up muezzin call. Caught up into an interlocking rhythm of fragmentary bleeps, hollow snares, muted kicks and a synth bass slithering like a snake under a rug. It grasps the primitive thrill of arcade game electronics, the ascending note-clusters spattering the backdrop like the perspectival shards of a Picasso. It's that sense of jarring, of multi-directional pulls - something that also crops up in Astral Social Club's best productions - in part a multiple and simultaneous focus on texture and rhythm, of each melting and moulding to the other - the bristling, unnaturally warm timbre of the rhythm synths, like someone briskly brushing your face - that gives it such a stirring, modernist thrill.

8. Belbury Poly & Moon Wiring Club - 'The Young People' (from 'Youth and Recreation' 7" (Ghost Box))

That deliberate stiffness, as if the beat-box were spluttering into motion, the loops not always lining up, the resurrected traces of sounds that have graced earlier records - the overtweaked, fruity analogue bloops, the shimmering metallic ring, backmasking and synths that could be the 'harpsichord' preset. The elements that marked Ghost Box's sonic signature are reprised on the first 7"s of their new 'Study Series', and although the novelty has, to a certain extent, worn off, and it lacks some of the litheness and spring of the early Belbury Poly material, it makes up for it in creepiness and veiled threat - a sense of menace evident in the likes of 'Pan's Garden' and Ian Hodgson's own solo work as Moon Wiring Club. Time is rearranged, through samples, backward tapes and rattling dub echo, to the point where, underscored by sour synths, it seems as if we might be swallowed into darkness.

9. Pantha Du Prince - 'Es Schneit' (from Black Noise (Rough Trade))

Perhaps the lushest, most sumptuous electronic record to come out this year, even more so than the newly tightened and slightly claustrophobic Emeralds album - and the closer as the pinnacle, a wonderful inverse to the intro of 'Behind The Stars', where Pole static and dungeon rattles give way to enervated, menacing funk. Here the rhythm is dependent on nothing more than metallic chimes at a 2-step BPM, wreathed in a halo of light, and the occasional fizzing spark from this anvil collision, bells and trickling chains dancing across a rising synth in the background. The entry of hi-hat and muted kicks after 2 minutes is almost unnoticed, but sets up the whole logic of the track, their syncopation bolstering its trajectory, curving vertiginously as Tatlin's tower. Dissipating into synth-clouds at 4 minutes only confirms the exquisite plateau-state it's reached, regaining momentum, until it bursts into a snow-fall of ambient sound. Summer light scores sound.

10. Downliners Sekt - 'Dirty Meinz' (from 'Hello Lonely, Hold The Nation' EP (Disboot))

Quite possibly the strangest rhythmical construction I've heard all year, and there's been some weird shit come out recently (see Autechre above), found on a recommendation from my friend M. Over nearly seven minutes, the track unfolds - beginning in media res, with digital claps puncturing the air, giving way, with some difficulty, to an awkwardly jumping bass - and systematically deconstructs itself, always holding its elements in suspension and flux, as if afraid to pin down a single note. It feels like the very definition of artificial life, a misty atmosphere where every surface and texture is grey and glinting, synthetic and disturbing to the touch. Different sections of the track - the grey-white bursts of trebly static, the slowly ebbing digital skank underneath and, somewhere distant, the persistent dry clicks of the kick - have, as in Holger Czukay's Canaxis songs, or Lee Perry's dub productions, different textures, as if captured via a variety of media. It extracts and reintroduces not just individual rhythmic elements - making an already lopsided bop squelch, dissolve and frequently mutate - but whole atmospheres, mists of synth and shifts of production that seem to change the shape of the whole landscape.