What was most striking to me the first time I saw Bill Kouligas, who operates under the alias of Family Battle Snake, was a very developed objective regarding his manifestation of drone-based soundscapes. Bowing what I believe was a Kamanche (or some similar Asian stringed instrument), he exhibited a stark sense of mature and explicit determination, crafting a wellspring of drones both unremittingly pensive and nakedly gorgeous, more than a little surprising for someone who’d committed time to the gleeful and grotesque absurdity of Joke Lanz’s Sudden Infant project. Then, after listening to Kouligas’ recorded output (in particular, the Subtle Hole Equation cassette and the Optimistic Suburbia CD-R), I was further struck by the way he translated his unambiguous ambitions from that live performance using a heavier reliance on pure electronics, the subverted intimacy of the treated strings substituting for the gracious fuzz of warmly swirling synthscapes.
A limited LP released on the increasingly obscure Harbinger Sound imprint, Glass Face Island finds Family Battle Snake attaching its weight to similar, albeit noticeably sinister, executions. Opener “Metahaven” contrasts a much bleaker personage to Kouligas’ more inviting tapestries, the synths this time birthing a tightly constricted and paradoxically unruly force of tempered machinery. These reverberations never reach a narrow path of euphoric stagnancy; rather, the jarring swelters and pops evoke an environment of unsettling intensity that is no less difficult from which to remove one’s gaze.
“Utopian Mirror” follows with an animated continuation of these austere territories, a descending flange of grating buzz overpowering the initial inhuman hissing of disturbed circuitry and further devolving into a mangled torrent of electronic desolation. By this point, Kouligas has made a hefty case for his considerable abilities as a curator of disturbingly scorched resonances. The thesis appears to continue with “Virtual Escape” opening the second side, a subliminal-sped voice abruptly shifting into an otherworldly pulsation. Heavily parched voice recordings meld in as sounds onto themselves, the words rendered impossibly ambiguous while clouded in decayed transmission. An echo of briskly tremolo guitar hits soon builds underneath the clutter, crafting a seamless contrast between the inorganic entropy and more recognizably earth-bound sub-melodicism.
“Stone Cave,” conversely, begins with what resembles a field-recorded trudge through diluted junk, easing its way into the comparatively frenetic emergence of alarm-like sounds overlapping into an unintended melange of rhythmic juxtaposition. These signals seem to eventually phase together, layering into a thick stream of hypnotic agitation before ending with a book-ended loop of Haters-esque churn. “Lubbard’s Farm” closes this long-player with spirituous collaboration, finding Kouligas receiving input from Harry Astras and Birds Of Delay’s Luke Younger, both of whom underlay Kouligas’ mechanized tumult with two very violent squalls of wrenching guitar debasement. The collaborative piece keeps impressively in line with the rest of the LP’s slow build, despite the sudden foray into a trio setting, as Younger’s and Astra’s string mishandling remains firmly in line with Kouligas’ sweltering din, all three personas densely aligned with one another.
Glass Face Island is one of Kouligas’ indubitably more grim statements to see release under his Family Battle Snake moniker. But where many artists attempting to traverse the starkly contrasting sonic planes of the chimerical and tangible often falter while reconciling their personas within the contrasts of both paths, Kouligas has provided a sufficient presentation of his competence as a traveller of such intricate scopes.
02. Utopian Mirror
03. Virtual Escape
04. Stone Cave
05. Lubbard’s Farm