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Black Rain
Dark Pool Albert Freeman , October 6th, 2014 13:22

As far as survivors from the heady days of New York's downtown arts scene go, few can claim to have remained contemporary for as long as Stuart Argabright. His now-solo project Black Rain, occasional conglomerate Death Comet Crew, and influential band Ike Yard, have all rushed to renewed prominence since the latter's 2009 reappearance and the re-release of groundbreaking archival music from all three groups in the past years. Some of his resurgence is illusory, for Argabright never really went away, and was continuously involved in odd and interesting music, film, and art projects, and managed intermittent releases every few years. His strategy had been to "aim twenty years ahead of everyone else and let them figure it out", an uncompromising approach that led to visionary music from all three of his major projects but only one immediate hit, the 1984 drop from Dominatrix, 'The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight', recorded during a brief sojourn in west Berlin. Much of the remainder took a good decade or more to sink in, and even Ike Yard's 2009 Öst and 2010 Nord records safely anticipated a general re-evaluation of industrial and minimal synth music by a few years while strongly retaining their own identity.

The forward-looking approach is characteristic of Argabright, a musician whose ideology fell in step with other dystopian futurist ideas of the late 20th century and who has refused to become a fixture of even the celebrated era he contributed to so strongly. Instead, he has founded new groups such as o13 and updated the sound of his classic projects to keep step with current times. Recent efforts from Ike Yard and Black Rain have cherry picked ideas from the last 20 years of electronic music, charred them with poisoned industrial soot, and re-deployed them seamlessly into the existing aesthetic of the projects, an approach that has rarely worked smoothly for musicians of his generation but which Argabright has pulled off with flair each time. His music remains avant garde, even placed alongside the current waves of younger groups exploring such sounds, and delivered with a kind of ritualistic, shamanistic voice and a bold, nuanced physicality that reveals the experience at work behind it.

Dark Pool is the first full album of new music from Black Rain since the 1990s and follows a live EP, Protoplasm on Blackest Ever Black, which it also reprises over its running time. For the greater part, the soundtrack feeling of earlier Black Rain recordings is retained, albeit with beefier rhythm tracks in the places where they do pop up and thicker productions throughout. The three tunes taken from the EP are all among the stronger rhythmic efforts on the record, but they're all offered in satisfyingly new versions that differ greatly in length and development in keeping with the improvised aspect of Argabright's performances. Recorded in Oliver Chapoy's studio with the rest of the album, these new takes add additional depth to already-strongly written tracks and fit in well in the album sequence. Two pieces, 'Profusion I' and 'Profusion II', feature the vocals of Zoé Zanias and are placed second and second-to-last in the running order; her dusky voice breaks the overwhelming gloom with some signs of human life but do little to break the mood of grinding, bleak industrial decay.

The first side, starting with the title track, moving to the first vocal, and then into heavy atmospheres and slow-moving rhythms with 'Watering Hole', charts an increasingly heads-down and dark descent. Two dancefloor-tempo pieces - 'Endourban' and 'Xibalba Road Metamorph' - arrive on either side of 'Burst', a much more rhythmically ambiguous effort with changes in tempo and structure throughout, but thick atmospheres easily take precedence over the beat structures, with howls of feedback and arcing smears of melody especially lending emotional drama to the busy bed of electronics in the side closer. 'Data River', an EP track, leads off the second half as the pace continues to rise and drum and bass influence becomes evident in the brisk tempos and beat structures of the trio of tracks that open the second side. He takes no steps back on the grungy production though, with the clean bleeping of the B-side opening contrasting distorted layers of synthetic washes. 'Night In New Chiang Saen', like 'Burst' on opposite, occupies a vague space between hip hop and half-time d&b, shifting feeling in the middle, before 'Protoplasm' moves to a more clearly break-driven structure. Reiterating an apparent reference to environmental concerns that runs through the album, 'Who Will Save The Tiger' closes the sequence with broken techno beats as the intense industrialisms gradually fade over its length to end the album.

Standing on the previous work of Black Rain, Dark Pool reads as an evolution rather that a sudden jump to the present, and smart sequencing increases the overall effectiveness of the music to lend a narrative feel to the album. If the archival recordings stand up to time surprisingly well after nearly 20 years, Argabright's absorption of influences since their release and his ability to roll them neatly into his own ideas is impressive, and his voice remains very much his own. There may be very much a vogue for these kind of sounds, as evidenced by his label mates on Blackest Ever Black and other recent ruminations from Hospital Productions, but as the elder statesman and an original innovator, Black Rain's articulation of dystopian concepts is that much more clear and moves past retro-futurism to the apocalyptic notions referred to in the group's name, a reference to nuclear holocaust. It's not necessary to re-invent the future once you have already foreseen it, and music of this substance and quality remains rare.

Strong philosophical and political stances were integral to the heritage of industrial music in the era that Argabright innovated it, and indeed the lack of these values in the modern renaissance can make contemporary re-evaluations come across thinly. In bringing his sound and ideological stance full force into the present day, Black Rain's Dark Pool continues to ring true.