The industrial warehouse envisioned by Argentinian mysterioso NGLY is a cold place. Bodies don’t move so much as fade in and out of focus, apparitions of warmth that now appear hollow, giving that much more floor space for the sounds to reverberate against the walls and into pure black. His music is familiar, pressing on the mind like so many pummeling DJs to come before him; only now it is disembodied, as if underneath all the low end is an unendingly bleak stream, the muscle behind the beats secretly nothing more than a gossamer ectoplasm. Cities of Illusion is haunted by voices, but none as manifest as the nocturnal shun of NGLY’s “Speechless Tape.” Its pieces lurch forward in a reanimated confusion, caught between memories of the European deep club and an oblivion in the multitudes of anonymous house artists facing us today.
NGLY’s response to this apparent overcrowding is to bring the conversation back to its roots. Despite all of its layered, modernistic distortion, Cities of Illusion plays like a long-lost EBM 12-inch, calling back to an ecstatic sense of being lost in the crowd and feeling the music begin to turn into a throbbing, static wallpaper. The thud of the bass is constant, but everything surrounding it becomes a half-remembered illusion; early standout “Infiltrating Parallax” unfolds like a sickening viral infection, yet even as it hits its stride, it keeps the hi-hat buried beneath its ever-morphing central motif, implying its rhythms more than explicitly spelling them out. On “Billy S.,” NGLY wraps drum machine after drum machine upon a warbling arpeggiator, only to interrupt the beat without warning, cutting the track into a kind of deformed electronic corpse. The smoothest moment comes in “Strange Expression,” a moody, straightforward nodder that would seem almost normal were it not for its evasive, muddled central bass line. None of these tracks attempt to disrupt the current beat of house music; they instead inflate the aspects of the genre that are barely there, twisting them into shapes that seem horrifying, even if they are nothing but an apparition.
Sometimes Cities of Illusion appears powerful. Sometimes it appears frail. Sometimes it barely appears at all, its monstrosity becoming a passing storm cloud, consuming in its breadth yet ultimately not intrusive. NGLY isn’t exactly interested in exploring the hidden sides of the club; he lives out in the open with it, soaking in its essential properties, dowsing for what makes it such a disorienting and otherworldly place, why its bliss is so tempered by darkness. Cities of Illusion comes close to materializing into a heavy monolith of a dance record, but it’s already begun to fade before it can, its limbs collapsing into shapeless and demonic stems, leaving us suddenly, once again, all alone.