Dominick Fernow’s long-running Prurient needs no introduction, which makes reviewing his twenty-year landmark release Rainbow Mirror all the more confounding. The harsh frequencies of the seminal The History of AIDS and Black Vase are absent from this endurance test of a release. Fernow’s vocals and poetically influenced lyrics are gone. What remains is a slowly shifting mass of downtempo techno and dark ambient-influenced tracks that have been marketed as “doom electronics”—a term that has been used to describe much more aggressive sonic outputs than what is to be found spread across three CDs or six-and-a-half LPs.
At face value, Prurient has always been a one-man-show. Fernow has long been the proverbial “man behind the wheel,” and there is no reason to expect that his output should mirror public expectation. The project has swung from field recordings to dark ambient, to power electronics and towards a near approximation of techno/EBM. There is a certain level of respect that Hospital Records demands—and has earned—after serving as a stalwart connoisseur and curator of experimental music over the course of its twenty years. What confounds all expectations and concepts of Rainbow Mirror—itself a longstanding trait of Prurient’s output—is that, here, the collaborators are folded into the nature of the output, where the listener cannot say, “oh yeah, I hear the influence of [X] on this track,” or, “well, yeah, [Y] was providing samples and synthesizers.”
The expanded trio of Fernow, Jim Mroz (Lussuria), and Matthew Folden (Dual Action) seems like a “sure thing.” Each artist has worked with both Fernow as a collaborator, and Hospital Productions as an artist. One would expect that this self-inflicted endurance test would enrapture, absorb, and entertain. Instead, what the listener is left with is a meandering collection of tracks that range from background noise to instantly forgettable. Little stands out about this release, and—here is where I break the cardinal rule of journalism—I fear that may be an entirely personal issue. As a young American living in an urban setting, this album blends incredibly well with cityscape sounds. With this album on headphones, walking to work, ambulances and car engines fade in and out of each track with almost imperceptible grace. The experience is not entirely unpleasant, but I rarely find myself eager to put the album on for its own merits. Rather, these soundscapes help buffer the environment rather than enrich. There are moments where I feel like the trajectory is headed towards a more restrained sort of minimal industrial or even an IDM slant, but so often these tracks feel locked in place, so constrained to their own minimalism that the emotional connection between audience and performer is lost entirely. If I were a gambling man, I would wager that The Wire would give this album a standing ovation. In short—Rainbow Mirror is boring.
Arguably, this might be an indication of Fernow’s new “Berlin phase,” in much the same way David Bowie made Low, and Liars made Drum’s Not Dead; but there seems to be much more of an influx of influence from his other projects, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement and Vatican Shadow. Too much of Rainbow Mirror feels like syncopated skeletal scaffolds of ideas rather than fully realized tracks; too much feels unfinished, or half-realized, or cobbled-together by collaborators who are better friends than they are ensemble members. The absolute kicker is that the vinyl edition of this release—which is gorgeous, no debate there—ends up feeling like the worst kind of self-indulgent cash grab: a well-packaged collection of C+ ideas for the fans and collectors to gobble up. Prurient has made much more compelling work, and not all of it has been “intense,” “punishing,” or “brutal.” There are titles in the discography that stand out for their beauty (The Golden Chamber), their understated bleakness (Unmasking the Insect), and their own atmospheric transcendence (Unknown Rains). The great tragedy is that, for a twenty-year landmark release, Rainbow Mirror is none of the above.