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Jahiliyya Fields
Chance Life Albert Freeman , July 27th, 2015 10:10

As a label, L.I.E.S. has always been a varied affair, with impossibly frequent, usually dancefloor-focused 12"s providing a mainstream for a considerably more challenging body of full-length material. Closing in on 100 releases in only five years, the imprint has kept a breathtaking pace for a contemporary label, with the pace sometimes obscuring some of the more notable releases amidst the sheer volume of output. The label's full-length releases have consistently been amongst the most interesting, with early drops from Professor Genius, Gunnar Haslam, and Shadowlust still ranking high in overall quality for the label. This said, one of the earliest contenders for ultimate outsider on an already outside label has always been Jahiliyya Fields.

Like many of the other artists on L.I.E.S., Matt Morandi possesses a long and twisted history in the Brooklyn underground, with roots in noise and kosmische electronics that come out quite loudly even on his more dancefloor-leaning material. Debuting with the full-length on the label, Unicursal Hexagram centred around drones, noise, and analogue synthesiser excursions that brought to mind a darker, weirder version of 70s electronic music, psychedelic leanings intact. Subsequent 12"s showed off a vaguely more floor-inclined side of Morandi, but the music was still belligerently twisted, psychologically damaged, and intense. Drum machines ran amok while synthesiser exploded out from under them nearly uncontrollably. On Chance Life, nothing much has changed, but it represents a more complete picture of Morandi's music than anything prior and a ferocious addition to his already-fearsome output.

With the destination point already fairly a given, Chance Life actually makes a remarkably smooth entrance. Morandi has always been better at cosmic synthesiser ambience than most, and the segue from the beautifully lush 'Temple Blockers' into 'Chance Life Moon Dance' is smooth; the thumping drums and echoing, sampled horns of the latter clearly influenced by 70s space jazz-funk. With its shifting tempos and deranged, intensely-psychedelic atmospheres, the album makes no attempt at dancefloor utility, although the two B-side tracks, 'Billows Is Shapes' and 'Clear Collar' make a sidelong feint at it. There's more of the see-sawing, echoing ambience familiar from the A-side on the former, this time tied to a fast, repetitive drum pulse and a hefty, Detroit-influenced bassline that provides a turbulent foundation. 'Clear Collar' is even more aggressive, with rattletrap percussion, enormous swoops of analogue synthesiser, and a rapidly-mounting pace propelled by intensifying drums that is the high point of narrative first half.

Thereafter, things become fragmented both in tempo and sound, with an overriding character more ambient than the first half. There is one exception: 'Galcit 210' is intensely twisted acid, brutally forced along by merciless drums, and forms the harrowing peak of the album's bleak, nihilistic streak, intentionally uncomfortably slotted at the end of the C-side as a cliffhanger surrounded by two downtempo pieces and an ambient interlude. The slow or ambient pieces of the second part mostly keep the dark, organic mood intact, with subtle influences of ethnic music peeking through at times in a manner similar to the 70s electronics that are an obvious influence throughout. There's a mysterious air to some of these later pieces and a sense of wonder at times, where the psychedelic tones of the early tracks reemerge after Morandi expunges the darkness of the middle section. It is particularly evident in the closing pair, 'Any Object Of Desire' and the aptly-titled closer 'Lovegiver C.B.' The penultimate piece carefully balances feelings of lightness and darkness as a rhythm slowly emerges from the modular synthesiser arc, while the final piece is all waves of beautiful, melodic pads and tones, with a burbling analogue bassline adding a gentle pulse before washing off into the æther just before the album's end.

With its striking range of moods and equally striking poles of emotion and intensity, Chance Life is an accomplished full-length from a talent who has clearly grown considerably since his debut a few years ago. There's considerable debate about whether or not L.I.E.S. has lost some of its lustre; albums like this and artists like Jahiliyya Fields show that in important ways it is just as vital now, if not more so, than when it began.