, January 21st, 2013 06:04
Powell, as his new 12" is at pains to remind you, walks with the zombies. The London-based producer attracted an impressive amount of attention last year for his debut releases via his own newly established label Diagonal. That was partly down to the presence, on his debut 12" The Ongoing Significance of Steel & Flesh, of a creeping dread monster of a remix from British techno innovator Karl O'Connor. But it was also due to the sheer strangeness of the music contained within that record and its follow-up Body Music. Like the undead creatures he invokes, there's something about Powell's sound that just feels instinctively wrong. It shouldn't quite exist in the form that it does: its constituent parts have a bolted together, Frankenstein's monster kind of feel, lending the final results a sickly and unnatural hue.
The body of the music on this new EP for the Death of Rave label - and it does have a distinctly fleshy feel - uses carefully sculpted, fizzing distortion of the type you'd as easily associate with modern day textural explorers like Mika Vainio or Alva Noto as with earlier practitioners like Suicide or Ike Yard. At times it might ring as clear as the exquisitely carved static of Emptyset or the Raster-Noton set, were it not for the scrambling effect of the music's archaic rhythmic skeleton: hollow percussion that sounds sourced from obscure post-punk and early industrial recordings, clipped dialogue, wiry scrawls of guitar. At times the drums are so muffled as to feel less like tangible presences and more like muddy pressure imprints carved into the surrounding matter, hinting at the shape of the former occupants that originally made them. This uneasy relationship - the old not only colliding with the new, but corrupting it - suggests a life experienced in multiple eras at once, or perhaps never experienced at all.
Paradoxically, however, all four tracks on this new 12" positively crackle with life force. Opener 'A Band' further consummates Powell's long-distance relationship with techno via a flat four-to-the-floor thump and blurts of caustic distortion, before escalating into a penetrating scream, the sound of his machinery wrenching control away from its master. But it's as far from your typical club-friendly fare as it's possible to get: above the monotone throb of the track's chassis, funk bubbles out at the surface as snide prickles of plucked guitar and dead-eyed chants. 'Oh No New York' trades in a pleasant form of paranoia, its repeatedly muttered "Oh no"s and dissonant streams of static ratcheting up the tension until the full sampled phrase - "This next tune is called 'I Don't Know'" - playfully flips the track's mood on its head.
'Rider' is the highlight, though: a cavernous kickdrum-led shuffle buoyed by pulsating low-end and static that percolates like bubbles through sparkling liquid, it's scarred by a single scratchy guitar that carves oblique hieroglyphics into its surface. Resolution and escape from its endless monotone stomp are only provided by occasional lapses down an energy level into terse stasis while, forced almost cartoonishly into the foreground, a voice declares puckishly that "I walk with a zombie!" As single line statements of intent go, it's hard to imagine one more fitting.