When I first heard this band, it was the disappointing Sparks II EP, which I described as, ‘[a] kind of rhythmic krautrock-tinged post-rock/art-rock’, which seemed ‘scared to really explore places interesting and new’. Yet, it had enough promise that I was really keen to hear the next thing they did: I ended the review by saying, ‘perhaps a longer medium is required to really let this band do what it does well, which is texturally rich, explorative instrumental art-rock’. Almost as if by magic, my wishes have been granted: This self-titled full-length album is exactly what I was hoping Amalgamated would do, and it fucking rocks.
Amongst the members of Amalgamated is one D. Petri from Dog Hallucination, who I absolutely love, but, apart from the occasional subdued section, this has little of that project’s minimalist surreal atmosphere—although it is definitely just as dream-like in its own way. The constant exploration of new directions, the psychedelic drones, the muffled samples from odd movies, the saturated washes rising and falling, the sudden changes of direction mid-song, the unusual twangs and textures, all post-processed into a strange eclectic alchemical brew, could easily mark a Dog Hallucination release. However, where these two projects diverge most clearly is Amalgamated’s use of really quite enormous beats: This release is full of them, as loud and proud as any old-school Chemical Brothers track. Normally, I’m kind of turned off by this sort of thing (being the needlessly anti-mainstream hipster dickwad that I am), but honestly, in this release, I really dug it. I think there are just so many other interesting things happening in the sound that the instantly accessible nature of the bold and brazen block-rocking beats doesn’t compromise the whole, but instead actually highlights the strangeness of everything else, contrasted so vividly against the solidity of the drums. And it’s not like every track is some Beastie Boys hip-hop banger—really, it’s only about half the tracks that sport these massive beats, while the remainder churn and fizz and whirl and pulse with dense surrealist magick. It’s the kind of thing that fans of Tortoise, Trans Am, or PAS Musique might really get into. Yes, it’s weird and inexplicable, but it’s uncompromisingly musical too.
It’s not just strangeness and big beats, however (although there are a lot of both on this album): There are also some moments of real beauty to be found on the album, particularly the twelve-minute final track (final on the CD version—there is apparently an extra ninth track able to be downloaded somehow), ‘Sentinel’, where all the great things about the rest of this album coalesce into the very best version of itself. Here, Amalgamated create a slowly rising swirl of churning psychedelia propelled by rising and falling tides of rock-steady beats. It is absolutely filled with strange glitchiness and moments of absolute magic wherein everything falls away several times over only to be reborn again, different and new, with colourful intensity and a texturally rich sonic palette, and some damn pretty acoustic guitar. Similarly, the nine-or-so-minute piece ‘No Answer’ brings to mind the soaring beauty of the lead melody from Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Third Stone from the Sun’ over solid drums and a looped phrase that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a Lemon Jelly album (complete with the sounds of wildlife). When these guys stretch out, they really go places—and the view is awesome.
It’s an album full of surprises, even on repeated listening, and there’s nothing I love more than an album that boldly mixes beauty and strangeness in such heavy doses. This is an album that is happy to tread that frightening walk between inaccessible madness and heavy-duty pop—an eclectic and adventurous release, and it comes strongly recommended.
02) Borborygmus IX
03) Wires & Weeds
04) Unworm Ascending
06) No Answer