Imbogodom The Metallic Year

[Thrill Jockey; 2010]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: concrete music, ambient, improvisational
Others: William Basinski, Alastair Galbraith, Steve Reich

Imbogodom is the collaborative project of the UK’s Alexander Tucker and New Zealand’s Daniel Beban. Their debut record, The Metallic Year, was catalyzed by Beban’s employment as a radio engineer in the BBC World Service’s historic Bush House and inspired by that facility’s collection of reel-to-reel tape technologies. Built in 1923, the Bush House has been the home of the World Service since it was forced to relocate when its original space was damaged by bombings in 1941. Since that time, the impressive neoclassical building has borne witness to every major historical event of the post-war era.

Recorded on night shifts during Beban’s tenure at the BBC, The Metallic Year feels haunted by the specters of human history that have passed by radio broadcast in and out of the Bush House basement studios. Its lingering, atmospheric compositions conjure up the chill of pasts rendered mute and spaces left vacant by the passage of time. In light of the project’s primary source material, this makes sense; Beban and Tucker began their process for the album by physically editing tape, constructing a composed foundation for their ambient improvisations by splicing together old reel-to-reel loops. In the studio, the duo traded duties at live performance and live manipulation, with one member at the tapes and mixing console, and the other at work with one of the innumerable instruments and noisemakers that appear on the record. The resulting works are impressively assured, texturally rich, brooding, and beautiful.

The album opens with its shortest track, “The Metallic Year Pt. 1.” Growling to life with implosive energy, it features a deep tape-loop drone that sounds almost like a dog’s barking slowed to the point of complete decay. In less than a minute, the track crests and fades, allowing the autumnal strings and piano of “Unseen Ticket” to bloom into being. The transition is a surprising musical shift, but somehow the tone and perspective remains consistent. All of The Metallic Year is similarly episodic. While its nine tracks have almost no single sound in common, and almost every song is a sonic departure from the one that precedes it, the record never feels fractured. Instead, its pieces are like studies on a common theme all cast in different shades or set amidst different backdrops.

Upon my first listens to The Metallic Year, I was reminded of the film Night and Fog by Alain Resnais. Sections of that short nonfiction work include color footage of the Auschwitz concentration camp taken 10 years after it was liberated. The camera moves amongst the skeletal structures of the abandoned camp left terribly empty and silent, like a mouth opened for a scream that never comes. In the face of such images, one can’t help but feel lost, compelled by the need to remember and plagued by the inevitable failure to understand anything but “the outer shell, the surface.” On their debut, Imbogodom manage to capture some of the profound mournfulness of that complex relationship with all things past. I don’t think The Metallic Year is an album concerned only with such horrors by any means, but it does seem to move among things lost to time, at rest amidst the dust and dark of a storage basement or hovering over long-silent former battlefields like a mist.

Links: Imbogodom - Thrill Jockey

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