If there was ever such a thing as a journeyman project within post-industrial music, Daniel Burke‘s Illusion of Safety would undoubtedly fit the mold. Since 1986 (for perspective’s sake: one year after this writer was born), Illusion of Safety has remained prolific all while never quite having a true place to call home outside of Burke’s own Complacency imprint. In fact, it was If, Bwana‘s Al Margolis who first gave the project a chance through his Sound of Pig imprint in 1988, but that would give way to some of post-industrial’s most profoundly influential and enduring labels in the likes of Tesco Organisation, Staalplaat, Old Europa Cafe, and Soleilmoon, and that’s only taking into account the project’s many full-lengths.
It seems curious that a project which was so clearly and critically influential to the post-industrial genre throughout a three-decade span would not find itself as the anchor for a seminal—or even a promising fledgling—label, but Illusion of Safety certainly wouldn’t be the first to find itself behind such a curtain of obscurity. The turn of the century has actually seen a period for the project that has neared relative dormancy at times (the key word here being relative), with a noticeable five-year gap between the release of Time Remaining and The Need to Now. Surrender is itself the only full-length to see the light of day since 2011’s Busier than Happier on Digitalis Limited, and having been released in 2013 by Arvo Zylo‘s No Part of It, it’s not exactly a hint at a continuation of the project’s prolific past, but rather one more sporadic entry at what appears to be the tail-end of an impressive career.
One can only guess at the reasoning behind this down-turn in productivity outside of the obvious, but it’s clear from the onset of Surrender that Burke’s will to craft marvelously complex experimental compositions from a variety of sources is still as intact and impressive as it ever was. Virtually any element that you’ve ever heard in experimental music can be found interwoven with other assorted, sometimes seemingly incompatible sounds: mathematical digital beats, distant pipe-organ dirges, feedback loops, squalling disharmonious harsh noise, engulfing bass-end drones, manic shifts in atmosphere and volume, a vast assortment of samples and field recordings, and fragmented electro-acoustic general weirdness. Impressive in its scope and intricacy, Surrender—at face-value—is an experimental sonic-sculptor’s dream; it is an epic journey through all manner of digital visions and vivid hallucinations, wherein we are led everywhere from the bleak and barren cut-up introduction of “We Numb” as it develops into an EBM-meets-free-jazz freak-out passage to the raging angelic inferno of synthetic choir layers in “Popular Delusions.”
It is in this complexity that I struggle to fully grasp onto a release, however, and it isn’t just Surrender that I find fault in with this. Clearly, experimental music is purposely unhinged from expectations, as well as it should be, but the path which Illusion of Safety has blazed throughout the years has always been at its most luminous on albums like Water Seeks Its Own Level, wherein one could find some sort of meaning, no matter how vague. A discussion about this album with a fellow writer brought up the idea that perhaps albums like this are crafted with enough space between meaning and imagination to allow for the listener to apply their own reasoning to the tracks, and indeed the colorful, near Dada-styled artwork for the release hints at that. After all, how could one take this surreal gathering of clowns and jesters and apply it to the music in a sensible way? It would seem ill-advised if not completely redundant. However, I listen to music as a means of escape, not as a means to give new color to the prison in which I find myself contained. Surrender has been issued with a two-sided insert, the flip-side of which features a doll tied to a chair, whose body and face is mostly obscured by a mirror. It’s clear what this image was meant to represent, but it occurs to me that the artist couldn’t have known just how literal they were being in this instance. Indeed, I felt the recurring anxiety of not being led into an experience, but rather another soundtrack to my own surroundings. Surrender didn’t take me somewhere else, it only sunk me further into my own fractured thoughts.
It is with that said that one can’t help but struggle to find a sincere connection to what Illusion of Safety has created here. Impressive as it may be, it is simply too abstractly distant to form a bond with.
01) Ready to Give Up
03) East of Easement
04) Popular Delusions
05) Roller Coaster
07) We Numb
08) Access to Core