Over the course of the last decade, few American cities have contributed as greatly to the development of noise, drone and neo-kosmische experimentation as Cleveland, Ohio. The list of musicians its greater metropolitan sprawl has coughed up represents a veritable murderers’ row. There is, of course, Emeralds and the trio’s many related projects, from Outer Space and Mist to Mark McGuire and Steve Hauschildt solo endeavors. But of equal significance is Sam Goldberg (and his Radio People project), Bee Mask, the Tusco/Embassy scene, fluxmonkey, Skin Graft and the pricelessly named Moth Cock.
Yet another artist who belongs to this impressive list is Prostitutes, the alias of producer Jim Donadio, whose latest effort Psychedelic Black is one of the finest iterations of the technoise/DIY techno impulse you’re likely to hear all year. (And yes, we haven’t yet reached the final quarter, but the music is that good.) Released on his own stabUdown imprint, the album will definitely appeal to fans of the dark and sullen productions of Pye Corner Audio and Ekoplekz. In other words, those who crave their beat science brewed in a dank basement, smeared in dystopian vibes and outfitted with the kind of ominously pulsating waves, squiggles and hums heard in nearly every sci-fi flick made in the ’80s.
But there also exist several prominent differences, the fleshing-out of which will help you appreciate just how striking Psychedelic Black truly is. Whereas Ekoplekz and Pye Corner Audio make heavy use of radiophonic’s spectral haze and rub-a-dub decay, Donadio obliterates any palpable sense of atmosphere, as if he constructed these tracks inside a laboratory’s ultra-high vacuum. At the boundaries of every sound particle, rhythmic component and novel effect employed lurks a negative space that is pitch black and utterly empty. There is no afterlife-as-reverb here, only the void’s dreaded silence. Not only does this uncanny quality result in a feeling of claustrophobia that lingers for the record’s duration, it thrusts Donadio’s skeletal grooves right to the cusp of the stereoscape (i.e. right in your goddamn face).
Then again, groove is probably the wrong word, insinuating as it does a certain degree of elasticity in the funk and syncopation departments. Donadio’s aesthetic, in contrast, isn’t terribly elastic; it’s brutish (and far more so than Pye Corner Audio and even the brawny Ekoplekz). His stuff pounds (“You Must Not Relent”), it stomps (“Get Off the Streets”) it thuds (“Shaking Single Engined Planes”), it scrapes (“Blood Bamboo Kid”) and it spits (“The Steady Sale of Junk”). Buried deep inside these tracks is the producer’s roots as a bassist in a slew of noise-rock outfits throughout the ’90s and early ’00s. And like so many American noise rockers who eventually discovered techno, Donadio’s embrace of raw, primitive beats was initially sparked by Six Finger Satellite, a group pivotal in introducing their fanbase to the clanging motorik rhythms of vintage industrial and Neue Deutsche Welle. As a matter of fact, Psychedelic Blackopens with a mutant laser-throb that wouldn’t sound at all out of place on 6FS’sMachine Cuisine Companion Cassette, a classic in synth rock exploration first released in ’94.
Something else Donadio just might’ve inherited from his heroes is a mischievous knack for inducing listener discomfort. In addition to the claustrophobia mentioned earlier (very 6FS), a goodly amount of the textures and frequencies he employs feeloff: too coarse or too tinny or too muffled, in a my-speaker-cones-are-fucked kind of way. This is quite apparent on the drone-based pieces “To See the Guns Dying @ Sunset” and “Rogue Elephants.” Moody and alien sounding, both titles serve as strategically placed interludes on what is—in addition to everything else it has going for it—an excellently programmed album from beginning to end.