AJ Cornell & Tim Darcy Too Significant to Ignore

[NNA Tapes; 2016]

Styles: ambient, electronica, spoken-word, door music
Others: Loscil, Blithe Field, Federico Durand, Allen Ginsberg, Ought

There seems to be no place on Too Significant to Ignore for individuality, authenticity, identity, freedom, unstilted emotion, or, for that matter, any other ingredient necessary to a halfway sane existence. The album — the result of a collaboration between Ought frontman Tim Darcy and producer AJ Cornell — exploits decentered ambience and spoken-word poetry to stir a disturbing, depersonalized atmosphere in which Darcy is reduced to an incoherent cipher, stumbling into the people around him as he vainly attempts to ease his own directionless anonymity. Of course, he comes nowhere near to rescuing himself from his existential impotence and, instead, sinks ever-deeper into the staggering confusion of electronics, samples, and incidental noise Cornell lays at his shuffling feet.

In other words, the album represents quite a departure from his day job with Ought, even if the themes of modern-day alienation and domestic mundanity were something the Montreal four-piece delved into on Sun Coming Down. This time, the delving is simultaneously much blunter and more oblique, with dewy opener “Today, The Body (No More Bacteria)” exhibiting a Darcy who complains, “There is no more bacteria/ Everything is clean/ The mop is clean/ I eat off of the floor.” Coupled with Cornell’s smoothed, softened, and scattered atmospherics, it paints a world where “bacteria” — that is, any deviation from sterilized norms and conventions — has been expunged, leaving people with the inability to individuate and distinguish themselves, and with the concomitant “sense of longing/ this sense of lack.”

It’s within this sense of lack that the rest of Too Significant to Ignore unfolds, to insidious effect. In the title track, Darcy is goaded by Cornell’s peeping, creaking electronics into enigmatic ruminations on the instability and contingency of identity (“I lost my voice”), while in the chiming, burbling “This Cafe (Is Not Anonymous Enough),” he unsurprisingly laments the 21st century’s anonymity, as well as our vain attempts to distract ourselves from this anonymity in music/religion (“Give me those headphones /I want to hear a god”). Cornell’s shapeshifting and unsettling production is the perfect complement to all this detachment and estrangement, which almost inevitability reaches the point in “Cosmetic Sadness” where Darcy appears to be estranged from his own self and emotional life, muttering, “The waxy outcropping of the brow/ Skin, so close it no longer looks like skin.”

Unfortunately, things don’t get any better for him as the album progresses, with the braying drones of “Spit of the 1980s (An Entire Afternoon)” finding him “driving through the wide, gaping O of the United States of America” in search of some authentic self that probably never existed, “screaming, I want my past back.” Similarly, the pregnantly tense album highlight “There is a Door” has him contemplating whether to go through “the door,” to enter mainstream society like his father, who was “a man of industry/ Inside the door.” As scary as these halting reflections make Darcy’s and our lives seem to the listener, there’s little doubt that Cornell’s landscaping of synths, echoes, buzzes, delay, and feedback render them much more absorbing and compelling than they would have been alone. Her careful sequencing, chopping, and layering of disquieting sound ultimately transforms Too Significant to Ignore into an environment that, much like “the door” of the album’s penultimate track, is easy enough to open. However, the listener should approach it with the utmost caution, since once entered, “you can never leave.”

Links: AJ Cornell & Tim Darcy - NNA Tapes

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