With steam-engine hisses and the begrudging grind and squeal of well-rusted gears, Grindlestone’s Tone escorts listeners along a path of dark industrial ambient. Taking sound sources ranging from “normal” instruments to field recordings of construction equipment and an MRI, the duo of Douglas Erickson and Don Falcone churn their way noisily through spaces that are minimal in structure but abrasively textured. While Tone never quite reaches the level of brain-crushing density common to the usual dark ambient, it’s definitely cloaked in thick shadows and makes a good run at alienating the listener. However, you’re kept in place by pulses of rhythm, sighing drones washing through the background and enough space between elements to make you want to hear what else is going on in there and where you’re going next. In “Pictures We Almost Take,” a repeating five-note rise and fall acts an an anchor in a sea of pulsing electronics and scraping sounds before Erickson and Falcone briefly clean out the space with wavering synth tones–and then let those five notes whisper at you from under the flow. It’s not gone, and it’s still watching you. “Once There Was Only” is the smoothest track, a quite-ambient flow of pads that, coming later in the disc after you’ve been trained to wait for a harshness of sound, spools out a line of expectancy for you to follow. Sounds that lift above the droning wash make you jump just a bit–because that may be the moment where it all turns. And then, brilliantly, it just doesn’t. This is where Tone finds its core: the rasp and snarl of the industrial tones in most tracks mix with drones and moments of phrasing to leave a distant emotional sense in their wake, and that sense can carry over as the disc moves forward. These two musicians know their way around sound manipulation; they’ve been at it, in various guises, for a number of years. Grindlestone is just one expression of their output. At times bordering on inaccessible but capable of suddenly turning up a moment that fully captures the listener, Tone will be better received by fans of abstract expression and grim soundscapes. But even if that’s not your usual taste, I guarantee that if you take the time to listen to it once, it won’t be the only time you listen. Give Tone a chance to take hold.
Available from Noh Poetry Records.