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Environment Bernie Brooks , March 18th, 2019 13:13

MY DISCO’s fifth LP is a visceral act of self-erasure says Bernie Brooks

Imagine a sculpture: massive, but simple, elegant, almost elemental. Something like a Richard Serra, maybe. Now, imagine it sat at the center of a cavernous room, lit by nothing more than the faintest traces of sunlight. Think of the space it occupies. More importantly, think of the space it doesn't. That, more than anything, is what MY DISCO's fifth LP, Environment, evokes. Really, that's what it sounds like: space.

Stuff happens, sure, but Environment leaves you feeling like you've spent thirty-five minutes listening to the room in which that stuff happened. It's a satisfying room. That thick sound of nothing in particular being recorded, of dust motes and air, is ever present.

The album opens with roughly four-and-a-half minutes of rhythmic electrical hum and a few bursts of noise punctuated by clangorous, scraping incidental percussion somewhere off in the middle distance. Next, 'Exercise In Sacrifice' showcases almost symphonic drones and far-off percussive elements reminiscent of various wind chimes. The drones rise and fall while the chimes clatter and clack, until they don't anymore, and all that's left is the room. By the third track, 'Act', vocals have been introduced, intoning over an increasingly harsh buzz: "Do I do enough?" The answer: just barely, but by design.

An exercise in rigorous minimalism, Environment employs a necessarily limited palette. After 'Act', you'll have heard nearly every sort of sound, tempo, and approach you can expect to. What saves the album from being unbearably austere or monotonous is the way MY DISCO attack with nearly every single sound they employ. If not exactly violent, each carries with it the threat of violence, and with that comes tension.

Since their inception, the Australian trio has chipped mercilessly away at any elements of their post-punk aesthetic they might deem to be superfluous, while retaining an immense physicality of sound that has become something of a trademark. As such, this immensity no longer requires the overwhelming percussive assault or slashing guitar of their early recordings. Instead, it's communicated through an unsettlingly clear delineation of auditory space, and the way that space is affected when its silences are suddenly broken, or when it is otherwise inhabited by sound. In this way, Environment feels like the end result of a long process. There's a patient finality to it. The patter of rain is a constant presence throughout the album's closer, 'Forever'. It's there at the start and runs long after the spare percussion and outbursts of feedback have drawn to a close. The lyrics: "I will wait. Alone."

In 1953, Robert Rauschenberg famously erased a Willem de Kooning drawing. The elder painter consented to the act, but cheekily laid down the black with gusto, densely and in a variety of mediums – pencil and charcoal and crayon and ink. You see, he didn't want the piece to be easy to erase, and impossible to erase completely. After two months, Rauschenberg called it quits. As expected by both parties, traces of the drawing remain. Looking at it today, its inherent de Kooning-ness is intact. In a sense, MY DISCO's career has played out in the same way, but as an intuitive act of self-erasure, with the band playing the part of both Rauschenberg and de Kooning. And much like de Kooning's enduring presence in Rauschenberg's notorious work of art, MY DISCO's identity – the core of Environment – remains undiminished. A mark so visceral is impossible to erase.