It can be both a blessing and a curse to have no deep familiarity with a particular genre of music. On one hand you are free to listen and observe without the burden of prior knowledge, free of the desire to compare to other acts. On the other hand, you lack the same experience to adequately describe the music. This is the context in which I listened to Bruta Non Calculant’s latest offering, Instinct—a truly mesmerizing and challenging album that often left me at a loss for how to go about critiquing it.
The brainchild of one Alaxis Andreas G. (Le Syndicat Electronique), Bruta Non Calculant was formed alongside Victor-Yann (De Frontanel) in 2006 with one other full-length, World in a Tear, released since its inception. Given their low output over the past decade and little information online, there was not much to rely on in pinning down Bruta Non Calculant’s overall sound, complex and strange as it is.
Instinct is altogether one strange beast, covering multiple styles and genres throughout its playtime, often from song to song. This made it exceptionally difficult to extrapolate any one theme, if there is one to be found. From the chiming lullaby of “Phoenix Burn” to the rhythmic dance beat of the instrumental “In this Land” or the industrial-tinged menace of “King of Street” and “The True Disciple,” Bruta Non Calculant jumps from genre to genre frequently but not always seamlessly. It certainly demonstrates Andreas G. and Victor-Yann’s versatility but left the album feeling unfocused. Typically, that would have been a negative observation, but in this case, it motivated me to continue exploring the album through multiple listens, and a trademark sound and identity did begin to emerge across each track.
It was during these early listens that I was reminded of two wildly different films: the nihilist art-house piece Irreversible, and the noir science-fiction film Dark City. It was not the specific brutalities that Irreversible is known for that came to mind, but rather the film’s depiction of Paris: the walls of the city’s metro hidden beneath a layer of torn flyers and shoddy graffiti; the clutter and dirt of the city’s streets and peoples’ homes; the detritus of urban life and the desperation of its people amidst the city’s own sense of moral decay. Nor was it the science fiction of aliens and telekinetic powers in Dark City, but the claustrophobia and grime of a city perpetually drenched in darkness.
Instinct seemed to follow these similar themes with a lens focused on the ugliness of a modern, industrialized life. The tracks ”Through the Dark Valley and “Act Bravely” best demonstrated this cynicism. The former echoed a chant of the song’s title as if that dark valley were the urban landscape itself. The latter’s pounding drum loops and driving synths, more at home in the dark of a crowded nightclub, actually felt more like a satirical rejection of that life—the indulgences and apathy of modern man. Underneath all of this, there still remained the longing and romanticism associated with traditional neofolk—a sense of nostalgic noir captured in Dark City’s more character-driven moments. Whether any of what I gained from repeated listens were actually true to Andreas G. and Victor-Yann’s intent would be impossible to tell. I gained no insights from lyrics or liner notes—a testament to where the music itself managed to take me.
Frankly, I was not at all initially impressed with the album due to what I perceived as a lack of focus and odd production quality. It does lack some polish with many sounds, especially the vocals, coming across as muted or warbled, and many of the melodies and song structures are comprised of simple loops and layers. While the minimal instrumentation is used to great effect, if you are looking for more of a challenging listen, it will not be found here. These are minor gripes, however. The further I went, the more I found the songs slowly seeping into the membrane of my subconscious. That would be a complicated way of simply saying the album grew on me, but that would not do the process itself justice. Instinct did not just grow on me, it took up residence and is likely not to go any time soon. In short, Instinct is an engrossing blend of electronic and folk sensibilities with a surprising depth hidden beneath a deceptive simplicity.
The more time I spent with Instinct, the more I felt that it had an implacable vibrancy and life to it that celebrates the modern world as much as rejecting it; a grime-noir soundscape for the hero wading through the mire. A celebration of modern time, both detested and loved, and yet a rejection of the grime and grind of it all the same. A longing for the simplicity of the past, and an acknowledgement that we cannot go back. This is all we have; the undeniable struggle of the spiritual man caught amidst the grey landscapes of the present.
02) Phoenix Burn
03) You Are with Me
04) Secret Life
05) The True Disciple
06) These Voices
07) King of Street
09) Through the Dark Valley
10) Blood to the Ground
11) In this Land
12) Who Are You?
13) Act Bravely
14) The Wolf’s Name (Live)