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Marcus H.’s Psychedelic Ambient Defies Categorization on "Splices and Phases"

Splices and Phases

Splices and Phases

It felt like a good sign when this album began with a recording of a coded Numbers Station (and if you haven’t ever heard them before, stop reading and go listen to the Conet Project immediately), and I wasn’t disappointed.  This album was great for all the right reasons.

With its rich and dirty synths, dark atmospherics, and mesmerising loops fading in and out of each other, Soiled’s Splices and Phases has a great balance of repetition and progress.  Rhythmic loops emerge out of the textures and sit still just long enough to become hypnotising before drifting away, making room for other sounds and textures to ease in.  Some of these loops are grimy synthesiser sounds and some are pounding low-end ring-modulated pulses, while others are almost country-style guitars (I’m certain I heard some slide guitar in ‘Caustic Surplus of Robotic Smiles’) or pin-pricked percussion, rolling past like a sea urchin.  There are warbly Leslie-sounding guitars that suddenly get swept aside by spiky electronics; almost techno-sounding arpeggiators come and go under a sprinkling of electronic hi-hats; washes of reverbed tones rise and fall.  There are so many great sounds and atmospheres that come and go, like a tidal river bobbing with flotsam and jetsam, washing oddities in and out again.

Marcus H. / Soiled

Marcus H. / Soiled

This constant balance of stasis and change, mesmerisation and movement, makes for an absorbing listen.  Each piece really flows, with fair room given to all of the sounds present, and no sounds or textures ever overstay their welcome.  There’s also a tension in some of the pieces (like the glitched guitar sounds fragmenting over the top of spacious piano notes and a rich and sturdy synth pulse in ‘Dull Ached Spaced’), but there’s also soaring beauty (like the looping sounds in ‘Creepy Crawling and Drifting’, which sit momentarily like a tiny repeating section of a film score before suddenly being absorbed into a growling ocean of roaring saw-wave synths).  Nothing is clear, and although there are no moments of shock, the entire journey is unpredictable—like a movie that relies on constant psychological unpredictability rather than easy jump scares.

Not to say that this album is dark or spooky or any easy description like that.  It’s a really difficult album to categorise, which of course is my favourite kind of all.  It’s ‘experimental’ in that there are no verses, choruses, or traditional song structures, but it’s absolutely coherent and very easy listening.  It’s ‘ambient’ in a similar way, but it’s all quite clearly different pieces with different moods and feels.  It’s ‘electronic’ with its synths and glitchery, but it’s a million miles away from IDM or synthwave.  It’s not even doing anything particularly ‘new’, and yet I honestly can’t say what else it sounds like.  If I had to say, I’d put it in the same vague basket as Dog Hallucination or PAS Musique, and link it vaguely to the psychedelic tradition that flowed from Can or Besombes-Rizet, although it’s really not like them either.

I’ve got no idea what else Marcus H. has done, but I’m definitely going to go hunting for more: this one album, just shy of thirty-seven minutes, is really not enough.


Track List:

01) It’s Fear in the Amygdala
02) Caustic Surplus of Robotic Smiles
03) Autumn in Flashbacks
04) Dull Ached Spaced
05) Creepy Crawling & Drifting
06) Repitch & Languish
07) Tandle Hill Brandon Hill
08) Spectrum Binary Training
09) Boscawen Mann
10) Boulby Deep Mist
11) Footsteps

Written by: Mat Blackwell
Label: Elm Lodge Records (United Kingdom) / Elm013acd / CD, Digital
Avant-garde / Experimental / Electro-acoustic / Synth / Ambient