Supersilent 12

[Rune Grammofon; 2014]

Styles: experimental jazz, Lynchian ambient, modern life as hellish limbo
Others: Deathprod, The Necks, Ultralyd, Bohren & Der Club of Gore, Naked City

You never know where you are with Supersilent. Free-jazz, ambient, noise, electronica, avant-rock, and modern classical; over the span of 17 years, the Norwegian trio have repositioned themselves so many times and taken in so many musical vistas that not only is it impossible to say where they now stand in the already feeble taxonomy of genres and empty labels, but it’s also impossible to say just who they are. Unsurprisingly, 12 is no different in departing from the mercurial strains of its four-year old predecessor, but quite apart from being another change of sonic mask for the band, the album is equally disorienting and enigmatic in its own right, veering fluidly through shards of electronic trembling and swathes of post-industrial bleakness. In fact, its pitch-black tones and textures are so obscure, so slippery that it eventually loses itself in empty space, sinking into a fractured nightmare where it no longer makes sense to use such words as north, south, east and west.

More importantly, 12 is one of those rare albums: an intoxicating wasteland so vivid in its decay that you can’t help but choose it over the pale safety of routine and structure. “12.1” and “12.3” are all dark ether and cavernous gusts, migrations of synthesized air and lost twinkling that emerge from the black only to pull the listener under. They move and amass with a harrowing inevitability, assuming global if not cosmic proportions, even though their evaporated synths, digitized chiming, and incorporeal atmospherics would imply that they’re the figment of some anxious, pessimistic, or depressive imagination. And its this ghostly immateriality that means that, as their gloomy layers blend and seep through each other, the fear and paranoia they engender become all the more galling for seeming all the more illusory.

Beyond “12.1” and “12.3,” much of 12 sounds like it’s unfolding in the vacuum of a bad dream or on the treadmill of a horror film set in a bottomless dystopia. This insidious terror derives from two key features, with the first being the isolated disconnection of its hallucinatory phrases and nocturnal segments, which, in obliviously passing in and out of each other, murder the notion that they join together to form an eventual route out of their own limbo. Moreover, this atomism is compounded by the hazed echoing of Supersilent’s instrumentation, of the wraith-like horns, aerial groans, and denaturalized keys that in their Stygian reverb create an unbridgeable sense of distance. Indeed, the defamiliarized scatterings of piano and the momentary wisps of guitar that ripple through “12.10” create the indelible impression that they’re entirely out of reach, thereby magnifying the inklings of perdition and powerlessness the piece evokes.

And from this taste of smoggy distance, there follows unfamiliarity and strangeness. Almost everything about 12 is distinctly alien, with the subterranean rumbling of “12.5” and the jarringly pixelated organ of “12.6” painting an image of a subject who’s woken up to find themselves stranded in an environment they can no longer comprehend or even name. Even worse, the few tidbits of semblance and sense that the album haphazardly throws at this subject — such as the languid saxophone solos that fleetingly emanate in “12.5” and also “12.7” — act solely as disembodied remembrances of a lost simplicity, as a means of sadistically underlining the gulf that now separates their contented past from their discontented present. They’re almost tokenistic gestures, wishful mirages and apparitions that rise up only to be swallowed by the tidal feedback that washes over “12.7” or by the chasmic ambience of “12.4.” Much more prevalent is the spectral devastation of “12.11” and the mind-fuck spaciness of “12.12,” which become even more unsettling when you remember that music is a means of experiencing yourself in the form of sound, and that therefore the portrait 12 reflects back at you is less than inspirational.

Yet if the album maps selves who don’t know how to organize their own introverted thoughts and emotions into a coherent whole, or if it maps an equally incoherent and intimidating personal hell, it’s not as though its unfortunate victims aren’t trying to escape. There are moments throughout the unlucky 13 tracks where struggle and dissatisfaction both flare up, such as with the peaks of maddened sax that cut through the accumulating fog of “12.9” and the opaque waters of “12.11,” or with the abrasively metallic creaking and croaking that says no to the inhospitable “12.4” and its whirring round-and-round. Unsurprisingly, these sporadic outbursts are quickly thwarted, crippled by the fact that, without any kind of percussion or rhythmic base to speak of, they occur within a directionless void and therefore couldn’t possibly direct themselves to warmer climes. Although fear not, for this futility is perfectly in keeping with a historical era in which sham democracy and unilateral globalization mean that the vast bulk of the world’s population move in a similarly emasculated and directionless void.

That said, these surges furnish points of concentration for all the unlit despair and nervous tension that lurk constantly under 12’s surface. They’re as intense as the rest of the album is stealthily disturbing, and together, these two emotional counterpoints result in an album that ranks amongst the best Supersilent have recorded to date. In fact, the album is probably also the most accessible the threesome have recorded to date, since the leaner, three-minute track lengths carve its sunless density into more digestible and perversely inviting portions. However, it has to be emphasized that these invitations should be accepted with extreme caution, since once you step into 12’s sprawling desert, you’ll have a hard time finding your way back out.

Links: Supersilent - Rune Grammofon

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