Review Summary: gay
Austin Tracey (a.k.a. Bitchfork, a.k.a. Unfathoms) listens to a lot
of music. Pretentious sh
it, weird sh
it, overtly “normal” sh
it to balance out the weird sh
it--William Basinski washed down with a chaser of Lauryn Hill, perhaps?--but, overall, a lot
it. And then he makes music; a good amount of it, too. We can question the integrity of what he chooses to listen to or the inherent quality of his seemingly impulsive releases as Unfathoms, but there’s something so charming about the whole cycle that you can’t help cheer him on (along with maybe silently wishing that he listened to a few less bands with names like “Gnaw Their Tongues”).
That said, the sort of transparency (i.e., we can hear what Tracey's listening to via his own music) that is one of Lay Down And Sleep...
’s most alluring aspects is also the cause of a few of its problems: the album is a little messy, a little overstuffed; as ridiculous as it sounds considering the nature of the release, it could use some editing. This is to be expected, though, and Lay Down And Sleep...
actually has some great material on it. In particular, the first three tracks act as great moodsetters: “Precious Magnetic Fields,” Tim Hecker-esque in its grumbling machinery, gives way to “An Epilogue...,” which explodes with endless clipping and cinematic death choirs. “Spreading the Width of Its Tight Pinch on Gravity” uses chilling dissonance as a chaser to the paroxysms of the first two tracks, and, for these three tracks, it seems that Tracey has finally honed his ambient/noise skills into something resembling a “professional” (if not “accessible”) approach--one that finally rewards the listener as much as it challenges them.
That being said, the EP is just too uneven to give the full thumbs-up. The last four tracks, in particular, are not as unpleasant (which, paradoxically, the first and best tracks are) as much as they are boring. “Bite Not the Hand...” uses a formula similar to “Spreading” but doesn’t do much of anything during its three-minute span. Though this is an attack that can be levied against most ambient music, the track also lacks any aesthetic value--it’s not pretty, it’s not exciting, it’s not as thrillingly discomforting as the earlier tracks. To put it simply, it’s just there
. The last three tracks, all solo improvised piano pieces entitled “Crisp, Never Circulated,” fare even worse. For one, the actual piano sound used on the tracks--one that comes close to ruining “Precious Magnetic Fields”--is terribly flat and artificial, not even defensible by Tracey’s DIY aesthetic. In addition, the pieces themselves are uninteresting and go nowhere. Though improvisation can lend itself to this quality, there’s simply nothing to grasp onto, and the pieces float by without making much of an impression.
Overall, though? A good effort from Tracey, and, in its own way, an inspiring one. This is a kid who, after listening to copious amounts of black noise, ambient and the like, can replicate and even change the formulae of some of his favorite artists, and makes it look so easy. Even though his own ambitions (or, perhaps, lack of ambition) can get in his own way, and though this is a release that’s far from perfect (its inconsistency, in fact, makes it hard for me to fully recommend), it’s definitely a sign that he’s on his way, at the very least. Keep it up, Austin.