Anatomy of Habit – Ciphers + Axioms (Relapse Records, 10 November 2014)
Good afternoon, how is everyone out there? Myself, I’ve just finished my third cup of coffee (or was it the fourth?) and somehow I still feel like I could nod off any second. I did manage to sleep at least five hours last night — more than usual — which is a good thing. For a while, I’d been concerned I’d start seeing hallucinations.
Now, I’m just wondering if I’m hearing hallucinations. Yeah, I know, that was terrible. Sorry, but I just don’t have the energy to come up with a decent segue today. If you have a problem with it, you can write your own reviews.
Anyway, we’ll pretend that was a really smooth transition, and that brings me to what I wanted to share with you today. Again I’ve dipped into my extensive to-do list, and come up with this delightful little album that Relapse Records had unleashed on the world late last year. A bit strange, but it quickly grew on me, and I’ve come to really enjoy it a lot over the past several months. I’ve got a feeling that maybe some of you will, too.
Chicago’s Anatomy of Habit consists of vocalist Mark Solotroff (also from industrial/electronic/noise pioneers Bloodyminded, among others — including a guest appearance on last year’s Indian album, contributing “noise”) and bassist/founding member Kenny Rasmussen, joined by new drummer John McEntire (whose credits also include The Sea and Cake, Gastr Del Sol, and others), percussionist Theo Katsaounis (Joan of Arc) and guitarist Will Lindsay (ex-Indian, ex-Wolves in the Throne Room, ex-Nachtmystium, and now part of the newly renovated Lord Mantis). This new album was recorded in the band’s hometown by audio wizard Sanford Parker.
The two tracks on this release — both of which stretch out so that they each basically fill an entire side of an LP — encompass a wide range of what-the-fuck, genre-wise: mainly hovering somewhere between noise rock and deathrock, but also incorporating elements of doom metal, sludge, and apocalyptic post-industrial. On top of all that, Solotroff‘s vocals — intoned in a not-quite-singing, semi-monotone manner that is often quite reminiscent of Ian Curtis — deliver a series of vaguely philosophical-sounding free verse, frequently repeated words and phrases that seem like they ought to hold some higher meaning that is just out of the listener’s grasp, but just as likely may only have been chosen for the poetic quality of how these words sound together. (For example, one of my favorite lines is “I must be / gone and alive / or stay / stay and die” — which doesn’t even quite make sense grammatically, much less contextually, but the delivery just sounds so cool.)
Opening track “Radiate and Recede” (the title comes from a line of lyric that first appears about three minutes in, then again — screamed this time — around the twelve-minute mark, as the song hits one of its heaviest points) starts out with a simple repeated rhythm that soon adds more elements and undergoes a number of variations — dragging the listener across several dynamic peaks and valleys, and through some lengthy crushingly heavy instrumental sections. The tempo occasionally varies as well: in particular, the song slows down considerably in a few spots, becoming much more deliberate, adding more of a sense of gravity. However, just as the lyrics keep returning to particular lines or sections, the initial rhythmic figure is a recurring theme throughout the track; regardless of how far out it will eventually go on different tangents, giving a feeling of comfortability and security — however tenuous such a feeling may be, as this music always gives off a “calm before the storm” sort of vibe.
The second half of the album is “Then Window” (which are the first two words of the song, and in fact, the first two words of each of the first eight lines); this track’s lyrics are also the source of the album title (incidentally, this phrase is reiterated several more times than the song’s title is). Like its predecessor, this track journeys through a contrasting dynamic range — although in this case it’s less about alternating ups and downs, and more of one long downward spiral: following an insistent, practically militaristic rhythm at the beginning, by the track’s midpoint (and about a thousand “ciphers and ax-EE-oms” later), the momentum has ground down to a minimal dreamscape. The final ten minutes (give or take) incorporate dulcet guitar tones as well as droning layers of feedback and noise — but put together in such a way as to resemble the serenity of ocean waves lapping against the beach, peaceful and entrancing.
To be perfectly honest, the first time I started listening to this album, I had quite a few moments where I had no idea what was going on, what the band was trying to accomplish, or even how I should be reacting to it. The longer it played on, though, as those driving angular riffs and industrial noises beat their way deeper into my brain, and the incomprehensible words continued tumbling along, I found myself fascinated — mesmerized, even. Twenty minutes later, I was fully hooked, and another twenty-some minutes after that, I was convinced that this record holds some sort of hidden genius. I still can’t say for sure whether that’s true or not, but the hypnotizing music keeps drawing me back in, over and over…
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