Review Summary: Karma FM
As the dust settled on 2017's Ruinism
, the two lead singles for Stuart Howard's follow-up Amnioverse
came as a bit of a surprise. Rather than continuing themes of deconstruction and reconstruction - Kintsugi on loops and melodies to create haunting ethereal soundscapes that wilted and rotted as much as they rooted and blossomed - Howard offered up a pair of relatively linear takes that swiftly lulled me into a false sense of security. I felt a tad conflicted at first, Ruinism
had quickly become my absolute standard for experimentalism in modern electronic, but there was also a sense of relief in the prospect of being offered a reprieve from such an exhausting scope. I felt that 'Earth' and 'Limb To Limb' might indicate a cathartic side-step from Ruinism
rather than a continuation, an exploration on a set of influences not as prevalent in Howard's past material. As welcome as that notion may have been, this pretence allowed me to dissolve my guard, however, these rather unrevealing singles turned out to be a veneer for something much bigger, bolder, and more ambitious than ever before.
I've always admired the artistry of contrasting beauty and decay such that the distinction obscures. I've found it notable in films like 'Annihilation', 'Valhalla Rising', or 'Suspiria' (2018), where visceral, unnerving content is shot in such a profound, stunning manner that violence and grace begin to coalesce and become indistinguishable. It's revealing of the necessity for polarities such as these to exist in order to fully realize their respective affects. Dichotomies like these, where each opposing factor is inalienably subject to corruption by its opposite, grant a breadth of emotion that tears a hole in the chest and leaves you feeling truly naked and vulnerable. Ruinism
explored the states of beauty and decay in a similarly affecting way. Stuart reassembled the fragments of loops, samples, and instruments to build new pictures that freed the work from certain linear suppositions. It was like watching a time-lapse of birth and death in reverse. Amnioverse
continues similar themes; the art representative of the womb (inspired by James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace installation), the album explores the intermediate state and the endless cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth.
Much of the album plays out in a similar way to Ruinism
; tension is constantly being built in fractured episodes, sometimes abruptly transitioning mid-song, sometimes delaying the gratification to frustrating lengths just to implode. Often times exploding into such tremendous climaxes it feels as if you are being forcefully submerged in the sonic undercurrent. The difference is the scale; while Ruinism
felt introverted and personal, Amnioverse
is cosmic and expansive. Breaks filter in and out of fluid synths, pushing at the boundaries of space and dilating time. The masterful attentiveness to atmosphere results in a drift through four dimensional space, surfing the radio for intergalactic signals of your own infinite birth, life, and death. Sometimes the signals are distant and fleeting, topographic sound-maps of distant events fading into noise. They may require adjustment, settling on another electromagnetic pulse mid-song. The disorientation exasperates the hopeful discovery of a strong signal - the albums most exhilarating and sparingly utilized moments. Predominately, the frantic search cascades through violent suns that need to buckle and break before they can make way for the clearest broadcasts. When they do, much like in 'Thin Air', it's such an astronomical release you almost forget to exhale.
It's easy to pick Amnioverse
apart. Much of the criticisms that surrounded Ruinism
are the same here: It's vexing, volatile and magnificently (and intentionally) imperfect. But it's the albums idiosyncrasy that makes it all the more apt and reflective of its themes. Something as comprehensive as this can't be easy, and the reward is elevated by the trials you entertain. Like any good slow-burner, in the end it's the challenges the album presents that bring it that much closer to a resounding end-result perfection.