9T Antiope & Siavash Amini | Harmastice
Hallow Ground (LP/DL)
Harmitice is the second vocal-based album Siavash Amini has been involved in just six months, and it is testament to his ability as a composer, and collaborator, that it is so remarkably different than its predecessor. Whilst the aforementioned Second Shift used spoken word fragments to sign-post a prominent musical narrative of Amini’s construction, Harmistice does quite the opposite. Sharing compositional duties here with 9T Antiope’s Nima Aghiani, here it is vocal delivery that is allowed to dominate, teasing the music into a position of subservience, a bed by which to set the underlying mood.
There are few moments in which the voice isn’t present, though it is presented in a number of guises. The album begins at its most traditional – a sorrowful feminine song floats above waves of dystopian distortion, a pleasingly obtuse narrative delivered by a faintly operatic siren. By the time we arrive at the second track – the amusingly monikered Purple as in rain – the voices presence has shifted, and now operates from within the sonic landscape it once overran. A reliance on spoken word develops until, by the third track, we arrive at a world torn directly from a horror novella – a Lovecraftian tale of far more melodramatic language than any moment prior. Whilst some of the lyrics are a little on-the-nose, the over-arcing experience is one of the knowingly theatrical, rather than navel gazing pretension. In a manner that’s often appears bafflingly hard to achieve, the voice and the music compliment one another superbly, an outcome born, no doubt, from the composers clear reverence for their narrative source.
Fans of Amini’s prior work might expect a noisy, torrential outpouring of granular angst, albeit one delivered with a delicate hand drawn from a more classical tradition. It is perhaps Aghiani’s influence then, or the collaborative process as a whole, that imbues the work with such a dramatic change of pace. The disturbing, and the dark remain, but the dual composers locate them in a far purer sound-world. Congregations of sine-waves serve as the core of his musical language, a piercing hi-pitched squall that reminds me of Xenakis or Kagel as much as any more contemporary peer. It is a work of arch-minimalism, or perhaps reductionism, with a relatively small number of well-placed sounds framing the vocals. The albums’ single-mindedness is intoxicating. If anything, the limited embellishments that the composers occasionally offers are slightly to the detriment of the work as a whole – the uncomfortable staticity of long-held tones and dissonant, distant movement renders some of the more prominent percussive distortion as a little irrelevant, compromising, rather than building upon, the existent mood.
As far as criticism goes, it is a minor one. Any frustration with the less subtle aspects of the sound-world come from the simple fact that Harmistice achieves so much with so little – the power of a handful of tones and a few clouds of tremulous dissonance is such that anything further – whilst no doubt a worthy addition to a lesser affair – seems a little unnecessary. If anything, I am reminded of Drift-era Scott Walker – a macabre, gothic (with a small g) vocal interweaving with a sound-world that manages to be simple and complex in equal measure, utilising a pronounced dramaturgy that nonetheless exists in its own concise world, rendered with its own unquestioning logic.
Harmitice is not always an easy album, a fact born of its committal to a self-contained and often inhospitable aesthetic. If I am not always convinced by some of the more pointed lyrics, the delivery, melody and pacing of the voice are exquisite, and the music’s often subdued (and yet still remarkably heavy) nature is the perfect accompaniment. Both Purple as in pain, with its atonal, uncomfortable string section, and Silver as in science, with its virtuosic vocal melody, stand out in particular, but it is the overall album and its encompassing mood that make for such a rich and compelling listen.