Paying homage to the eco-aware 1970 David Axlerod album Earth Rot in both name and intent, Toss Power Traps’ Earth Rot II: Music for Iceland is set forth as “a musical love letter to the country and its mysteries” and as a musical screed on environmental caution. Musically, it ranges from blasts of electronic noise and gritty industrial tones to quiet, thoughtful pieces hovering on the edge of post-rock. There are 10 short vignettes here, the longest clocking in at under six minutes, so composer Brendan Coon jams a lot into a very short timeframe. There is a well-thought of shift of sound across these tracks that, for me, somewhat salvages the release. I don’t find much to grab onto in the first couple of tracks but midway through “Aluminium Smelter v. Hallgrímur’s Klais,” when Coon drops out his heavily abrasive sonic attack and moves into a very light minimalist near-drone, a simple repeating set of tones over a white-noise backdrop, he’s grabbed my attention. From here the music gets more interesting. The repetition-and-drone framework gets shuffled a bit moving into “Audun, Let the Bear Roam Free,” where chimes form the phrase and ambient-style pads roll beneath. “Even Vatnajökull Can Melt (Ragnarok)” feels like a Kraftwerk nod, but with more grit and deconstructionist attitude. “Bassaltaurorica” is a whisper of a thing, soft electric piano-style notes picking out a slow melody that rings and resonates, giving off a chill-out vibe. The closer, “The Portal at Grímsey,” nails you immediately with its catchy glitch hook and thumping club beat. Again, Coon lets a simple repeating phrase carry the piece, letting it speak across layers of cool texture. Big strings come in at the end to carry it all upward, and where we end up is vastly different from where we began.
That distinct journey is what made Earth Rot II: Music for Iceland a pleasant surprise to me. I wasn’t crazy about it at the outset; it felt like noise for noise’s sake, a big tangle of experimental chaos. But Coon has a through-line here, a theme that plays out, and it works. I happen to prefer the more accessible side here, but the gritty stuff, in relation to other such work, is handled well. It has gravity, and I think that’s what Coon wants there. A very interesting release from Toss Power Traps.
Available from Gogoyoko.