Billy Gomberg Beginners

[Dinzu Artefacts; 2018]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: drone, noise, electronics, dark
Others: Anne Guthrie, Delicate Sen, Other Vultures, Fraufraulein

As the follow-up to his excellent Slight At That Contact on Students of Decay, Beginners is a collage of field recordings, processed electronics, and drones that lulls the listener into a waking nightmare as unsettling and enigmatic as anything Billy Gomberg has released to date. Beginners sounds as though it were transmitted into our stereos from unknown sources; the more you tune in, the less clear it becomes. Like the out-of-focus photo that adorns the cassette cover, you can make out something within the recordings, but what exactly it is never becomes apparent. You want to adjust and hear things in a clearer manner, to finally “get it,” but the illusion of understanding prevails.

Beginners unfolds over two 15-plus-minute sides in movements often chaotic and sometimes hypnotic. Gomberg smears his source material to the point where it’s hard to differentiate between the natural and the mechanic. The treated bells near the end of Side A are a good example. These tones are like a drug that hooks you in, and when the tape clicks to signal that it’s ready for the next side, you feel as if you’ve come out of a trance, unable to discern if it’s been minutes or hours. One is left with the sense that the rough exterior throughout Beginners merely gives way to further layers in need of unpacking — “a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma.” Where Slight At That Contact was the crumbling, desolate urban hellscape right before your eyes, Beginners is what remains: darkness, stretches of silence, lingering pulses of the grid, a sonic mirage of hope beyond the bleakness. It may all be a dream, a blurred memory we experience in real time, or on repeat, with a haunting, inescapable sense of déjà vu.

The continued labyrinthine paths and the perplexing beacon calls within the tape, most evident about 13 minutes into Side B, keep bringing you back, letting you into its world but never laying it out for any sense of satisfaction when the tape ends. The intoxicating allure of the drones, noises, and textures makes for a compelling listen, and as long as the listener enjoys the unfolding of the journey rather than the destination, Beginners is a subtle, winning tape that finds Gomberg in full command of his sonic arsenal.

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