Emptyset Blossoms

[Thrill Jockey; 2019]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: glitch, minimal, specimen, bass, prepared
Others: Autechre, Urban Sax, late period-Growing, Mosquitoes, Fis, Raime, Pan Sonic

Static’s always just around the corner. What reliably comes clear is that humans are deeply faulty organisms. Even the most seemingly balanced among us are subject to all manner of destabilizing existential menace. In this light, there is a sort of relief that the machine-learning software that has formed this release didn’t improve upon Emptyset’s superb discography (plus 10 hrs of wood, metal, and drum skins that this reviewer can’t speak to). Seems our massive advances are dwarfed by our inherent ability to get in our way. Stands to reason that we’d pass this on to even our most sophisticated of technology. Blossoms can come across like a series of calloused provocations, full of spell-breaking rests that seem to say “Like that?” in a mocking way. Like the program doesn’t know what the hell Emptyset wants with it. This is a victory for us, of course. It has otherized the duo’s spartan sound to an extent, but it’s also given listeners an intriguing detour rather than something more or less significant.

While fascinating, the conceptual approach to Blossoms naggingly skirts the obligatory or novel. Yet there is a disheveled acclimation that occurs with the music produced by this experiment. Perhaps around the third track (a decidedly rubbery post-nasal drib, oddly titled “Bloom”), there’s a sour and smudgy trance that settles around the head, like watching a sordid b-movie in slow blinks. In a way, this is the darkest Emptyset release, in that it raises goosebumps with macro insectoid emissions but doesn’t quite pound and swell in the trademark fashion that might make the project more palatable for some. But this listen should be rewarding to all blessed with a compulsive temerity to de-settle through its rude gradient rub. What’s the reward? I don’t know. The sense that the messy human hand is never too far from whatever ostensibly autonomous structure may spring from it? The experience is a striking glimpse, however elusive. Sometimes a work looks at you cockeyed and it holds your gaze anyway.

The sophistication of the process is immaterial to the enjoyment of Blossoms, especially when vastness of variables seems the main point of intrigue. And to exist is, often enough, to be a sputtering engine of hyper-stimulated grasping. The album’s less a reverse Frankenstein’s monster situation than an extended collaboration with chance — not unlike Ben Chasny’s Hexadic card system of songwriting with Six Organs. The 10 selections are less a swirling cacophonous summation of Purgas and Ginzburg’s documents thus far than a series of muted, disorganized footnotes. They step out and freeze like models on a runway at a pace both deliberate and seemingly tentative. With “Blade,” there is a pastoral, Loscil-esque thing happening, but it’s surrounded by remoteness and rote, ragged machinations. Still, it’s plain that humans made this stuff, even (or especially) if it’s out of a desire to make their self-expression less so. It’s not alien or cold or even emotionless. It belies a familiarly human sort of stoicism, with the physical plane playing less of a role than usual. Like unlearning the object permanence of acquainted sound in its own tall, tinny greyed-out shadow. Most vitally, Blossoms is Emptyset continuing to do uncompromising, restless Emptyset, with no sign of stagnation (even if this very phenomenon continues to be a crucial aspect of their sound).

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