Field Whispers (Into The Crystal Palace)

Fire-Toolz' fifth album sounds like so many things that it ends up sounding like absolutely nothing on earth, finds Noel Gardner

Record reviewers shoring up that all-important, ill-earned authority for themselves is a time-honoured practice made considerably easier in the streaming era. Who’s to know you weren’t down from day one, and in fact Spotify-binged on their back catalogue just before blurting out your blurb? Well, here’s the thing with Angel Marcloid, a plunderous and maximalist Chicago musician trading here as Fire-Toolz: this is her fifth album proper under that name, ergo manageable enough, but Discogs reveals a virtual canyon full of tape- or netlabel offerings and offcuts, which would take weeks of dedicated listening to conquer. So be it: Field Whispers (Into The Crystal Palace) is my introduction to this project, and I’m very glad about that.

It’s hard to name any composers – at any level of the industry – who are more ‘more is more’ than Marcloid. The stems for these eleven tracks must be more like redwood trunks, so layered, complex and multidirectional are the resulting arrangements. It’s electronic at root, and subject to heavy digital processing of course, but with live guitar and bass – fretless, for that extra injection of jazz fusion – chopped up, post-FlyLo or perhaps post-post-Squarepusher style. Marcloid’s loose links to the nebulous vaporwave scene repeatedly manifests, too, cuts like ‘April Snowstorm (Idyllic Mnemonic)’ touting MIDI-melancholy keyboard melodies and smarmily ersatz woodwind.

The metal influence that peppered previous Fire-Toolz albums Skinless X-1 and Drip Mental (see, I did listen to them at least) remains strong on Field Whispers. Its opening number, ‘mailto:spasm@swamp.god?subject=Mind-Body Parallels’, in addition to having a title that could be the work of an extremely sassy early-2000s mathcore band, stitches blackened eldritch vocals into a quilt of IDM beats and loungey soundbed keyboards. ‘✓ BEiNG’ is even more paradoxical, smuggling the gutturality inside a maelstrom of crashing syndrums and mulleted guitar solos. If you like The Body’s No One Deserves Happiness, or certain recent Grimes efforts, you might get a kick out of ‘✓ BEiNG’, which is a statement distinct from ‘it sounds like them’.

Indeed, Field Whispers’ crowning achievement is perhaps making the listener think of so much other music in its forty-four minutes, it ultimately resembles none of it. Things are done at the intersection of noise and breakbeats that point to the queered hyperkineticism of Arca or Yves Tumor, even tipping into footwork patterns as artists on Orange Milk (who’ve released this album) sometimes do. ‘Clear Light’, the longest and most mutable composition here, pits just that against buff-sheen cocktail jazz. Autechrean acres of patches and plugins and other things I make no pretence of understanding seem to fuel more abstract, time-stretchy moments like ‘The Warm-Body (A Blessing & Removal)’ (Marcloid likes her parentheses). Vulgar excess carried out with consummate elegance, and something else to add to the list of 2019 electronic albums which manage to be throbbingly intelligent, scarily complex and relentlessly fun.

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