Cruel Diagonals | Pulse of Indignation
Drawing Room Records (CS/DL)
Cruel Diagonals is the musical output of Megan Mitchell, who is described as a field-recordist and vocalist – though it is the latter of those two disciplines that seems to take precedent here. I am not familiar with her work, however Pulse of Indignation appears to be her second album, and serves as a fairly single-minded, and notably brief foray into a sort of hazy, melodically repetitive minimal-techno. The album is peppered with numerous interesting timbral choices – this is perhaps where the aforementioned field-recording comes in, though it is not always obvious – and much of the percussive elements are well-conceived, if rhythmically simplistic.
There is a feeling that though many of her sound sources might be interesting, some of the electronic processing is fairly run-of-the-mill, and as such this short collection of songs excels whenever the composer lets herself off the analogical leash. The straighter she plays it, the less interesting the compositions, and it is her habit of actively deconstructing the tableaus she has concocted that mark Pulse of Indignation’s finest moments.
The album’s opening track, Abberance, spends its first few minutes presenting some pleasant-but-unexciting beats, before entirely falling apart after around three minutes – a collapse that introduces waves of granular processing and a fierce ambient haze that is as wonderful as it is unexpected. Likewise, the closing track Verdant Poised offers up metallic, rhythmic drones and rolling cusps of noise that seem to infiltrate Mitchell’s vocals, scraping through the grain of her voice and feeding into a passage of beating, clicking field recordings, all tapped wood meeting clanging metal.
Your enjoyment of the EP is no doubt going to depend upon your enjoyment of non-lexical vocables – for the entire album orientates itself around Mitchell’s plentiful supply of ‘ooh’s’ and ‘ahh’s’. It is a fairly limited and yet omnipresent tool that permeates the album to such a degree that it is without doubt the over-riding aesthetic, and one that arguably lacks some of the compositional depth present in the more nuanced percussive sound-design. By utilising such an aesthetic, Cruel Diagonals court a longstanding dilemma – these vocal parts – all breathy, feminine purity, interspersed with the occasional softly spoken monologue – are innately pleasing to the ear. However, the lack of melodic interest, and the limited, fairly unchallenging self-harmonisation, risks casting them as mere window-dressing.
This is by no means always the case – on several of the tracks the vocals are elevated to a far greater degree, either by taking on a more restrained, acutely repetitive (and thus less ‘beautiful’) role, or by the use of electronic processing. Again, the same rule applies to the vocal as to the album as a whole – when it get a little weird, it gets a lot better.
There is definitely nothing wrong with Pulse of Indignation – it is an extremely competent, and often richly designed album, particularly in regard to some of its percussive elements. If anything, its weakness is foreground by the tameness of its primary aesthetic – the wordless vocals upon which the album relies are proffered in a fairly unadventurous fashion, whereas the creeping bouts of deconstructed grain and noise into which the album occasionally descends are full of depth and intrigue.
Charitably, it may well be that the former offsets and extends the latter, and those who immediately warm to this kind of vocal performance are liable to be impressed by the album no end. Personally, however, I find myself longing to hear Mitchell extend her experimental edge a little more, to make compositional deconstruction the pivotal narrative of her work, rather than an occasional colour.