Public Memory Wuthering Drum

[felte; 2016]

Styles: trip-hop, folk-politics, krautrock, fascism, “indie/experimental”
Others: Thom Yorke, ERAAS, Massive Attack, The Knife, Pure X

In film, wind-chimes are a time-traveling device. An audio-visual mnemonic. An auditory mesh that momentarily ensnares and articulates the passage of time. It rings out the same no matter where in time you are, no matter where you are “going”: it reminds you that time is always the same. And so, as Wuthering Drum, the debut record from a project that calls itself Public Memory, opens with a chime, a chime that slurs into the low roaring trip-hop of “Heir,” alighting in us that sweet-sad tingle of nostalgia: longing not so much for the past, as common sense tells us, but for a wrench in the gut that connects us momentarily to every other time we have ever felt this way.

We are all its unwitting heir, as it hides in the tender spaces between us that we mistake to be closed channels. Memory is fallible, tending to fill its gaps with familiar narratives or things that have been suggested to us. We can trace this mis-remembering on a collective scale through Public Memory. Wuthering Drum warps through atemporal nostalgic veins — the record’s dominant trip-hop feel evoking Massive Attack woven through contemporary trap riddim cult and R&B fetish; repetitive, simple minor harmonic structures recalling the dark romantics of Cold-Wave synth pop; “spectral,” “haunted,” or “astral” (take your pick) vocals like Thom Yorke singing through a conspicuous, distorted Instagram filter — to articulate the predominant mnemonic formations of our anxiety-ridden, relentlessly public era: by turns a frothy, identitarian collectivism and a resigned, disaffected hermitude.

Politically speaking, nostalgia is the raw potentiality of historical force. Ideology harnesses our present discomfort with the passage of time to tell us stories about how things used to be better, more authentic, and purer. And so, Wuthering Drum contains flashes of totalitarian energy. The unvaried, lumbering trip-hop churn that powers the majority of the record’s songs paired with the violent timbrel energy of Korg MS-20 bass lines foments an unmistakable “boots on the ground” vibe, sometimes accompanied by hauntology adornments of noticeably “analog” found audio and frequently ushered in on headwinds of syncopated, harmonically-synced chimes. The handful of forward-marching tunes on the record (“Heir,” “Mirror,” “Ringleader,” “As You Wish,” “Earwig”) are less about the content of memory — the lyrics are usually indecipherable, transformed into an instrument through processing and EQ manipulation — and more about its collective direction.

If memory has a solvent function within a personal, psychoanalytical framework, then public memory has within it the capacity to momentarily catalyze personal disaffection into collective mobilization. Often this movement responds to the alienating circumstances of an encroaching and complex global world, as in the case of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Islamic State, and folk politics-leaning local and sustainable movements around the globe. On the surface, it may seem strange to be comparing a Krautrock-influenced experimental pop record to varying strains of fascism, but Wuthering Drum’s more extroverted tracks convert the past-facing force of memory into a blind, hurtling forward momentum that, much like the aforementioned movements, streamline and absorb the unpredictable anxiety of polyphony, and intuitively and emotionally funneling experiential viscera toward a reductive solution.

The other handful of tracks on Wuthering Drum similarly deal with anxiety, but take on the textural character of isolation rather than dissolution into the collective: dread and labored repetition resonates through Knife-reminiscent triad harmonies and snares paced like swinging iron-hammers on the aptly titled “Cul De Sac,” whose protagonist is bent on disappearing off the grid: “Lock the front door/ Shut the curtains/ It’s a matter of descent.” “Domino,” with joint-popping, fricative percussion and a Game of Thrones-esque string theme, sounds like a lost track off Thom Yorke’s The Eraser, a record that was methodical in its solitary composition and deliberately concerned with surveillance state anxieties.

If Wuthering Drum fails in any aspect — and it does succeed by many accounts, as Robert Toher’s songs feel sturdy and powerful, and the hybrid organic, digital, and analog-digital production palette frequently births moments of gorgeous, cathartic synaptic pleasure — it’s that it fails to elicit a mnemonic response distinct from its references, which are much narrower than the project title suggests. In the end, Wuthering Drum settles for escape and release from its embedded problematic, drawing to a close on the breath of (somewhat) clean air that is “Lunar,” a hazy, psychedelic dirge calling to mind Pure X and Jesus and Mary Chain. Still, those harmonically serendipitous chimes are present even in the dirty sunlight at the other end of the Drum’s weathered time-space, calling us back into the past, back into the future, back into the present, back into the unknown.

Links: Public Memory - felte

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