Music is transportative, we tell ourselves, so it’s fitting that Ancient Astronaut are named after the decades-old conspiracy theory that claims aliens have been abducting fat Americans and flying them around the Moon since the paleolithic age. Not only does the Vancouver-London outfit’s anonymous mystique parallel the theory’s conspiratorial and clandestine tone, but the extra-dimensional hush and tumult of their debut album and its murky techno is, in its own deflective and defamiliarizing way, a correlate for the claim that pretty much any extra-ordinary feature of human civilization and history — from the Nazca Lines in Peru to the Great Pyramid of Giza1 — is the work of extra-terrestrial beings. Put differently, just as the theory of prehistoric aliens and even the present-day meme of alien abduction can be reduced to attempts to reject our own strange and often troubling reality, to countenance it only at a safely encoded distance, so can the the contrastively drugged and dissonant trips of Ancient Astronaut be framed as an attempt to place a transmogrified buffer between the band and its own shrouded truth.
If the corrosive sonics and glazed textures of the album’s six (really four) tracks are anything to go by, this truth can’t be a very comfortable one. Initially, “A2” presents a straightforward image to the world, beginning with a stubborn, undeviating beat that’s accompanied by a machined bassline. But like with every other intergalactic voyage on the album, the proceedings turn incrementally unwieldy and hallucinogenic as the intensity ramps up, ascending toward outbreaks of phased, pitch-shifted careening as it runs its 11-minute course. It’s almost as if, much like the individuals who “act out” their own intimate psychological issues and hangups through the filter of extraterrestrial imagery, the only way the piece can handle manifestations of its own underlying trauma is to package it in the kind of veering synths and skittering electronics that don’t quite allow themselves to be pinned down and viewed head-on in all their ugliness. Hence, when this trauma eventually reaches saturation point after 10 minutes of escalation, its potentially overwhelming sharpness is blunted in the disfigurements of fizzling static and super-fidgety rattling.
In fact, even during its more tranquil stretches, the LP unfurls itself in similar tides of abstracted compression, with “B2” composed primarily by a reverberating bed of synthesized mist that gradually accumulates mass and volume as it sways in and out of comprehension. Its occluded atmosphere evokes the drowsy apprehension of some unpalatable event or advent, and when this apprehension becomes too vivid, the piece cracks into an ever-accelerating surge of tape-manipulation, possibly commemorating the moment where the abductee is pulled by tractor beams onto the mothership or possibly mirroring his psychopathological inability to confront his problems and perceive their socially-embedded causes in anything other than grossly encrypted terms.
This latter possibility constitutes a form of self-alienation or self-denial, an externalization of one’s turbulent being onto securely remote figures and objects, symbols through which the problems necessarily caused by one’s immersion in crippling social groups can be indirectly addressed without actually changing anything on a systemic level. So there’s justice in Ancient Astronaut harnessing such motifs for their vein of acutely refracted EDM, and this isn’t just because “A1” erupts in arrythmic clusters of fuzzy snares that evade full recognition, or that “B3” smokes through diffuse, watery tufts of binary that hint toward nautical submergence, but also because music itself embodies yet another psychosocial phenomena that functions as a dislocated repository for all of the crap we should really be dealing with at the source.
And even when it doesn’t serve to detach us from our own conflicts and turmoil, it often causes us to misidentify our own qualities and positives, to project them onto musical personas and other fictitious characters when we’d be better off recognizing them in ourselves, when we’d be better off recognizing the erratic playfulness of “A1” or the profound contemplation of “B2” as our playfulness and our contemplation. Neither have Ancient Astronaut helped matters here by settling on a name that conjures the denial of humanity’s bottomless potential and on an aesthetic that clouds the human experience in slippery beats, paranormal swells, and deformed noise. But when all’s said and done, even though they could just about be accused of facilitating whatever grievances music/alien abduction may or may not perpetuate, they could much more easily be lauded for highlighting their own glaring role in this perpetuation, and more importantly for shaping a blindingly polymorphous debut of out-there techno.
1. Other “inexplicable” objects, events and phenomena that certain folks have tried to pin on aliens: Terra Preta, a super-fertile soil found in the Amazon basin, where extraterrestial Übermenschen gave pro-bono agricultural lessons in exchange for the privilege of inserting rods up our asses (Philip Coppens); Baalbek temple in Lebanon, which because it incorporates 24 monoliths that weigh anything between an impressive 300 to 1000 tons, must have obviously been an alien spaceport (Matest Agrest); the Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull, which, aside from supplying lovable chancers with yet more ammunition, helped piss on a much-loved film franchise (Chris Morton); the Genesis flood, which was triggered when the “twelth” planet Nibiru was destroyed, causing a catastrophic tidal wave to be unleashed on Earth, ruining thousands of barbecues in the process (Zecharia Sitchin); “old money,” in the sense that the politico-economical predominance of certain families and elites is the result of their ancestors having received patronage from our alien overlords (David Icke); war, in the sense that these same alien overloards, being the scrupulous Caeser disciples that they are, employ the old “divide and conquer” one-two and foment global strife so as to distract us while they steal our jobs and women (William Bramley).