In a low-lit room it’s hard to tell with whom you’re conversing. With Melvins on a fuzzy roar over the PA and the quickdrinkers shouting from the roped-off bar, it’s hard to hear the conversation too. But here, at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, I met Marcel Foley. We had both ventured into the neon-lit downtown of this coastal city to see California’s drone-gaze Marriages and Japanese hard rock legends Boris. Foley and I happened into a conversation about ambient and noise music and got more in-depth as PA checks resounded. His appearance doesn’t scream accomplished musician. He looks, well, his age. He’s fourteen years old with long hair that runs down his shoulder. Despite the dark setting of the pre-show atrium and Foley’s timid demeanor, I was able to get a business card. When I arrived back at my apartment, I sat down and pulled out this slip of paper and dug into exactly who this person was that used this antiquated and overly professional mode of data exchange. As I soon found out, Marcel Foley is not only a rising musician, but a journalist, and interviewer as well. His blog contains original commentary on a wide range of music styles, events, and news. His YouTube channel features interviews with Deafheaven, Kevin Morris and James Williamson.
Foley has self-released two albums and a single so far through bandcamp. These three mix ambient with a droning, resonating soundscape. Most of the sound and construction is computer-generated, but feels organic and breathing. Atmospheres and Landscapes features rather light-hearted electronic strings and soft, echoing vocal hums. The Dream is a four-part dark ambient adventure. Leaking oxygen and drowning brass instruments build the setting of nautical despair. Untitled is a single which fits snugly in with a busy cityscape. These works, all written around the same time, are beautifully slow and amorphous.
This fourth installation by the Santa Cruz native is an even deeper dive into the dark arts of electronic music and a firm break from the drowsy waves of synths that accompanied earlier releases. Tape Muzak is part harsh noise, part ambient, but rooted in plunderphonics. The forty-track record only has ¾ of its songs under two minutes in length. The album feels like a mixtape of soundbites for future sampling. The shorter the track is, the more bizarre it is. Only one song is titled: “Swan Song.” This song stands out for its backmasked vocals and spiraling void of low-tone electronic roar. Foley stated this album came about just through experimentation which he pursued after The Dream. In terms of the bellwether of this work, he noted that NON‘s harsh-industrial Pagan Muzak was a definite influence even in the title. Ambient, drone, and musique concrete still remain in this album. In addition, Foley said the tongue-in-cheek recycled muzak genre of vaporwave had an impact on the creation of some of the tracks. To give any idea of what this album sounds like when played straight through, imagine three articles in a room: a CRT television, an amplifier, and a sledgehammer. The television is switching channels between cliché 1980s commercials and suspenseful horror films. It is blaring its odd tune from the amplifier. A large electrical fire breaks out and consumes the television which cries its death-wail with the gain raised by fifty decibels. Someone grabs the flaming sledgehammer, bringing it down against the glass of the television in forceful plunges. Still the television spits out its elevator music, manipulated and melting. This scene cuts out, interspersed with visions of gentle cityscapes and comforting daily life. Only seconds later, the view plunges back into the inferno, a body hunched over the smashed box, the amplifier still roaring.
Overall, the album is pure experimentation. As the bizarre image I presented shows, this album is indescribable as a whole and must be looked at on a song-by-song basis. Tracks range from distorted shluck pop tapes to pure harsh noise wall. At random intervals the intensity drops off a cliff into minimal field recordings or ambient pieces that hearken back to his earlier work. TV-channel-switching tropes get absorbed in Have-A-Nice-Life-style drum beats. This album is unpredictable and chaotic. The songs certainly could have been split into several different releases which made more logical sense, but the quality of sheer unedited exploration would have been lost.
Foley is taking his art in countless directions. In fact, he has hinted that his next release will be totally different: an instrumental hip hop mixtape. A thirty-second bonus track on the promotional copy of this release hints toward the future with a cut-up upright bass line, drumkit, and turn-table spun shout. He has many years to refine his sound, but without a doubt if Marcel Foley keeps his passion for experimentation and music, his work has the potential to be world-renowned. “Kids these days” aren’t out-of-touch with the traditions of industrial music. There are still people out there, passionate about the manifold sounds in this world. Sometimes it just takes a neon-lit venue surrounded in amp stacks to find them.