Demdike Stare
Tryptych


5.0
classic

Review

by Conrad Tao EMERITUS
February 1st, 2011 | 168 replies | 16,960 views


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Empty spaces, small gestures, and the sigh of an unearthly world.

Think, for a moment, about empty spaces.

Garages. Deserted parking lots. The abandoned house down the road. That imaginary space in the back of your head inhabited by unnameable fears manifested in hideous physical forms, forms that have a tendency to appear out of nowhere, only to dissipate into thin air. Tryptych, a compilation of Demdike Stare's three vinyl-only releases from last year as well as a massive triple album in its own right, is a curious beast, existing halfway between these expansive and desolate places and a more insular sonic cocoon. The tracks have room to breathe; a hypnotizing beat slowly fades in here, a heartbeat pounds there. Yet they feel uneasy, filled with a quietly restless sense of urgency. At once distant and painfully intimate, Tryptych envelops its listener in an eerie world where nothing is quite as it seems, where the most recognizably human sounds (a sitar sample, a snippet of speech) take on otherworldly qualities. This is insistently, irrepressibly dark stuff, but it's also breathtakingly beautiful.

Which is what immediately sets Demdike Stare apart from the "witch house" tribe that they are so often grouped into. They don't get lumped into this niche for no reason - the duo's name references a 17th-century witch, after all - but the music they craft is noticeably absent of the massive synth tones and blown-out production of Salem and White Ring. Tryptych doesn't really invite points of comparison, by virtue of its singularity and uniquely shaded color. So although a significant portion of 2010 was dedicated to the occult, the music that Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty are producing transcends trends and shoots straight for sublime. Rather than trying to grab your attention with ugly drum machines and superficially frightening antics, Demdike Stare choose to veil their songs in foggy analog hiss, adding a touch of warmth to the desolate mood that defines so much of this music. Forest of Evil, the first of Tryptych's three discs, benefits greatly from this sonic shroud, its discordant piano figures and ghostly washes of sound taking on an unearthly weight. Ambient while retaining a visceral edge, it's a gorgeous combination of noises, arresting in its psychedelic evocation of emptiness.

There it is again: emptiness. Tryptych's negative spaces are just as important as its actual sounds. Silence takes on a palpable quality and creates tension, which remains resolutely unresolved. The claustrophobic chanting of "Hashshashin" should build to a climax of emotional catharsis, but instead disintegrates into electronic noise. It feels unsatisfying at first - all that discomfort without any payoff! - but it's ultimately a brilliant move. By forcing the listener to wallow in vaguely Middle Eastern sounds and foghorns sampled and cut up a la From Here We Go Sublime, Whittaker and Canty reveal those sounds' inherently musical qualities while infusing them with a healthy dose of anxiety. They do the same thing with a vocal sample in the hypnotizing "Bardo Thodol"; Middle Eastern scales interact with a throbbing beat while that vocal, every aching, longing syllable of it, echoes and distorts until it becomes a distinctly inhuman entity. It's these moments where sound is presented in a fairly unadulterated form, only to be deconstructed mercilessly and left to decay, that define Tryptych.

This obsession with the byproducts of sound manifests itself most clearly in songs like "A Tale Of Sand" and "Black Sun", where resonance itself becomes a rhythm or a melody. Detached by nature, these unique sonic constructions have a haunting, foreboding air about them. Unapproachable yet still inviting, they suck the listener into their vast, murky waters. Waters that are probably infested with insects, mind you; the digital clicks of "Regolith" are legitimately disgusting, the electronic equivalent of cockroaches crawling over dead bodies lying in a swamp. Yet even an image like this invites sick fascination. It's the soundtrack to our fears, our deepest desires, and most importantly, that strange place where the two meet. The lightly grimed dub of "The Stars Are Moving" is both a celebration of the impending apocalypse and the embodiment of our desires to go beyond our physical limits and escape the world as we know it, its lush and hazy vocal patches beckoning like the monolith in 2001. In the song's final moments, we are transported to a place of cosmic fantasy, a completely weightless world. The beats disappear, replaced by endless reverberations. That's when you remember: there's no sound in space.

And so we return to that subject of empty space. Throughout Tryptych, Demdike Stare seem obsessed with finding substance in the darkness of the void, whether that void is emotional or physical. It's evident in their song titles: "Nothing But The Night", "Black Sun", "Desert Ascetic". And it's evident in how they construct their songs. A cough is turned into a halting rhythmic figure in "Leptonic Matter". The periodic hum of an elevator becomes a spookily omnipresent pulse in "Library of Solomon Book 1". The smallest sounds are intensely magnified, transformed into impressive gestures. It's the humble roots of these songs that give them a feeling of closeness, a sense that you've been here - even when you know you haven't. It's unsurprising, then, that while Tryptych certainly recalls earlier works by William Basinski, Burial, Miles Davis, Yellow Swans, and Iannis Xenakis, it also sounds wholly original and unfamiliar. From the opening arpeggios of "(Dusk)" to the final pulsating hums of "Past Is Past", it is a thrillingly varied and compelling listen. For almost three hours, you are awestruck in its presence; it surrounds you, swallows you whole. Harrowing? Definitely. Exhausting? Perhaps. Unpleasant? Not in the slightest.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
conradtao
Emeritus
February 1st 2011



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I hope I can get some people to listen to this.

Here's a sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKrpwRV3O7I

Xenophanes
Emeritus
February 1st 2011



10585 Comments


Holy fuck, what?

Awesome review, you've certainly grabbed my attention

Digging: United Nations - The Next Four Years

Ovrot
February 1st 2011



10468 Comments


They're no beck.

Digging: Jean Michel Jarre - Oxygene

Irving
Staff Reviewer
February 1st 2011



7144 Comments


Wow, Conrad - just wow. Seems like that Contributor tag has galvanized your writing - you sure are rocking your reviews hard these days. Nicely done.

If I may make a remark - the review was probably a tad too long, but it was still a phenomenally descriptive body of writing.

conradtao
Emeritus
February 1st 2011



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I tend to be overwrought with music that's difficult to accurately capture in words, so I know exactly where you're coming from, Irving! =] Thanks for the positive comments, guys.

There are some albums that feel like the only possible rating you can give is a perfect score. This is one of them, not necessarily because I think everything on the record is perfect, but rather that I simply cannot imagine it existing in any other way. Of course, it helps that I absolutely love the world this album creates and inhabits.

Ovrot
February 1st 2011



10468 Comments


Good Review
pos'd
need to check this out.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
February 1st 2011



7144 Comments


You did well with this review though Conrad - seriously. There's some amazing lines here in this piece. If I may make another oblique remark - I've (obviously) never met you, and I don't know what your voice sounds like, but when I read this review I can imagine a faceless narrator trying to help me navigate through an altogether bizarre and unique world. I can't explain it, but it's seriously something.

Okay Imma stop being a fanboy now. LOL.

conradtao
Emeritus
February 1st 2011



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I'm beyond pleased that my writing has the ability to make anybody feel that way, so thank you very much for the compliment. I'm chuffed to bits :3

Yotimi
February 1st 2011



6442 Comments


How does this compare in sound to 'Liberation Through Hearing'? I have to admit I really didn't like that album. (although I only listened once; should probably give it another chance)

Yotimi
February 1st 2011



6442 Comments


Whoa I'm retarded just realized that's one of the discs....

conradtao
Emeritus
February 1st 2011



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Liberation Through Hearing is probably my favorite disc of the three; the others are a bit more ambient-focused.

Yotimi
February 1st 2011



6442 Comments


Yeah, I'll give it another try.

BallsToTheWall
February 1st 2011



44164 Comments


Cool review. Im sold to give this a try.

conradtao
Emeritus
February 1st 2011



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Sweet! Hope you enjoy it. There's a link to the second track in the first comment if you want to give it a listen before you get the whole thing (it is pretty massive, after all).

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
February 1st 2011



15727 Comments


siqq album

Digging: Alvvays - Alvvays

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
February 1st 2011



15727 Comments


review is whoa hyperbolic but its a whoa hyperbolic type album

SeaAnemone
February 1st 2011



19732 Comments


This is an incredibly overdramatic review Conrad, but I'm sure you know that haha "That's when you remember:
there's no sound in space." I'm sorry, I thought that line was funny ; )

That being said this is wonderfully described, really piques my interest even though that clip you showed me before
wasn't really to my liking.

Digging: Towers - Bel Air Highrise Plantation

conradtao
Emeritus
February 1st 2011



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

"This is an incredibly overdramatic review Conrad, but I'm sure you know that haha "That's when you remember:
there's no sound in space." I'm sorry, I thought that line was funny ; )"

Yeah, that's a pretty ridiculous line. :] Like Adam said, this is the sort of record that invites hyperbole.

robin
Emeritus
February 1st 2011



4241 Comments


great stuff conrad. better make a move with this.

AggravatedYeti
February 1st 2011



7684 Comments


better be the best fucking album ever conrad you tease.



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