SETH This True (Sunseth)

[1080p; 2015]

Styles: electronica, Dadaist dream-pop, augmented reality
Others: James K, Gobby, Physical Therapy, Malcolm, SFV Acid

If nothing else, the music of NYC producer Gobby unmasks a disturbingly disturbed soul. Last year’s Wakng Thrst For Seeping Banhee portrayed him as a nihilistic anarchist, while his recent outing under the Monkeybone pseudonym — The Roommate — drew him as an embittered, passive-aggressive ex-housemate. In both cases, his flagrant disregard for the conventions and niceties of music revealed a flagrant antipathy toward the world this art form is supposed to reflect. These albums saw him reject the norms of techno and ambient, and in the wake of their cracked lawlessness, it was only too plausible to assume that he was someone who rejected the social circles and the society out of which such genres had materialized.

Even though This is True (Sunseth) doesn’t continue in a similarly warped or insurgent vein, its benign tripping still betrays him as a disaffected and detached outsider. Having been tapped to collaborate for a second time by James K, fellow New Yorker and central member of SETH, the two together have produced a mini-album whose surreal electronics, withdrawn beats, and abstracted vocals convey an irrepressible desire to separate from reality.

This desire manifests itself in many forms. In “WOLFIE,” palpitating synths and artificial strings jolt arrhythmically throughout its intro, deviating from the regularity of objective time to establish its own highly subjective clock. As if this weren’t enough, the song then mutates unpredictably under James K’s flowing breaths. Out of nowhere, an Asian motif emerges, layered with spectral tones and pulpy keying. Washed away by descending FX trickery, it then disappears, creating the impression that the track as a whole belongs less to the world of continuous space-time, and more to the pseudo-realm of discontinuous illusion.

The vast part of This is True unfolds in a similarly anti-cause-and-effect vein. The beguiling dream-arpeggios of “SlimDu” and the squelched themes of “METH FACE (I Can’t Wait)” both construct a fantastical unreality where every progression and phrase shifts illogically, and where the lo-fi production and echoing sonics provoke the sense that everything is taking place in a distant and detached sphere.

It’s precisely this distance and detachment that conveys an implicit criticism of the world in which James K and Gobby reside — New York City — raising as it does the example of a better, more Utopian world, where the desire expressed in the “METH FACE” couplet, “I cannot wait/ To see you,” is given free rein to satisfy itself unimpeded by codes, laws, or other minds.

Nonetheless, given the Digital Age that the digitized electronics of This is True conceivably represent, it’s possible that the likes of the piano-colored “DEMON SELF” do not in fact evoke an imagined negation of our times and places. Instead, it’s equally plausible that its holographic twinkling and virtual synth-streams evoke these times and places as we actually experience them — that is, as we experience them in a world where media have become ubiquitous enough to inflect and distort not just our perception of reality, but also that reality itself. If so, numbers like the phase-shifting “REST NOW (Surrender)” would paint SETH’s NYC as a strange and scary place, as a hyper-fluid domain where events don’t proceed according to a logical order and where people are as insubstantial as their social media profiles.

Yet it’s also an exceedingly beautiful place. The swirls and sighs of “REST NOW” define it as a seductive mirage in a concrete desert of its own making, even if the “13th Street Tranyslvania” [sic] that follows is naked in its feedback-soaked ugliness, revealing the grimy and grotesque substrate that festers beneath the hyperreal superstructure. Together, these two songs reveal This is True as a simultaneous love and hate letter to NYC, as a perfectly balanced collaboration between James K and Gobby. How these two seemingly opposed artists managed to attain such a fine equilibrium is something of a conundrum, but they nonetheless achieved it. They’ve produced a mini-album whose contorted delicacy serves as an ode to the hallucinogenic nature of the age we live in, on the one hand, and as a comparative indictment of the underlying grim reality, on the other. As implausible as this sounds in writing, it’s almost inspiring on record, since This is True reveals that, sometimes, we can criticize this world simply by enjoying its randomness and insanity.

Links: SETH - 1080p

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