The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Hiro Kone
Pure Expenditure Bernie Brooks , September 17th, 2018 06:46

With her second LP, Hiro Kone cements her position as one of the finest electronic musicians working today

Outside, the cicadas are loud. Their buzzing drones sound like an overtaxed transformer might. They mingle with irregular rhythms clicked out by katydids. It's a Friday in mid-to-late August in a small French-Canadian hamlet in rural Ontario. Beyond the town’s only real crossroad, cornfields stretch out to the horizon in all directions. They have a rhythm of their own, but it's a mostly regular one, broken only by farmhouses and two-lane highways measured out in grids. Inside the car, my partner and I are listening to Pure Expenditure, Hiro Kone’s second full-length LP, for the first time. Its techno-indebted industrialisms seem in sync with the fields.

For me, industrial music has always had a counterintuitive but wonderfully complementary relationship with the ‘natural world’. Its din mimics industry, which mimics nature, which in turn adapts to and mimics industry. Open a window, let the sound of late summer bleed into the clangorous beats and drones blaring from your stereo, and it'll probably feel of a piece. This is especially true of the music Nicky Mao makes as Hiro Kone, and even more so of Pure Expenditure, her darkest, heaviest, most masterful record to date. “Nature sounds without nature sounds,” as my partner once said.

It may seem odd to relate a record inspired by Georges Bataille’s critiques of capitalism to the rhythms of things unconcerned with the destructive, seemingly inescapable system we've saddled ourselves with, but like nature, like the weather, Mao's compositions seem inevitable and ineffable. ‘Poortgebouw’ (named for the historic squat in Rotterdam) builds with the slow intensity of a storm that never breaks, all heat lightning, low drones and hiss, pressure and humidity - a thunderhead building, looming above, then passing by. By contrast, ‘Scotch Yoke Pt I & II’ takes full advantage of Mao’s impeccable sound design (aided and abetted by Josh Eustis’s terrific mix) to cultivate a sense of menace and unease before blowing open - a windstorm in stereo - and eventually giving way to the sun via modular synths that glow like warm light on wet grass, that pop and click, tentatively at first, like small creatures emerging from shelter. It's one of the albums most singularly beautiful moments, a necessary reprieve and evidence of Mao's judicious sense of pacing and balance.

A keen collaborator, Mao elevates the artists with whom she works while clearly evolving with each collaboration. Within Pure Expenditure she seems to have seamlessly integrated and expanded upon her prior experiences working with Drew McDowall on their excellent collaborative LP The Ghost Of Georges Bataille (released earlier this year) and with Wetware's Roxy Farman on 'Infinite Regress', a standout track on Hiro Kone’s debut LP, Love Is The Capital. The result is a burlier, more physical sound than on her prior recordings, which, while never fragile, sometimes felt bright and crystalline in a way that Pure Expenditure rarely does.

As with Love Is The Capital, the two collaborations on Pure Expenditure are highlights. On the title track, Berlin’s Group A lends abstract, distorted vocals - more moaned than anything - to Mao’s chugging, insistent beat, while stuttering, swirling synths mirror the demented utterances for five-and-a-half riveting minutes. Elsewhere, on ‘Outside The Axiom’, Little Annie croons over a sparse production that unexpectedly slips into ambience for a full minute before transforming itself into something almost resembling a pop song. It’s an audacious, wholly successful manoeuvre.

Every second of Pure Expenditure is seemingly considered and forced to justify itself. At 35 minutes, it is a concentrate, as lucid and powerful a record as anyone is likely to make this year. Whether listened to on headphones or allowed to blend with the whorl of cicadas, Mao's latest cements her position as one of the finest electronic musicians working today. Like the weather, it was inevitable.