I have always appreciated artists who can take disparate elements, from noise to glitch beats to industrial clatter, and bring them together in a way that retains that cacophonous, chaotic sound and yet turn it into something rhythmically engaging. Such would be the case with The Looming Machine from Nuclear Whale. Musician Jonathan Ridley comes at his listeners with work that grinds, gnashes, hisses and thumps its way along. The beats are mechanical in their tone and cadence, but packed with clenched-fist aggression. Much of it is punctuated by a big, dense low end, a hammer of bass that punches you right in the aesthetic. “Flarepath” is the prime example here, drum-driven and backed with industrial churn. Ridley layers and weaves the sounds into a rich complexity, and that complexity becomes a very catchy groove. Ridley’s also effective when he strips his sounds down to an almost minimalist form. “The Ghost of a Flea” mostly keeps its voice down as it chugs ahead on a sort of mutated electropop beat, a small set of sounds running deep. “Ash in the Sky” floats appropriately along on windy pads, a quietly ticking beat and a sense of tenuous expectation. “Venal,” my favorite track here and the longest on the release, is intriguing for the way its holds its basic shape the whole time, yet is in a state of constant flux. A four-count beat tracks steadily along as Ridley essentially adds and removes sound components without interrupting the mesmerizing pulse. You know when new elements are added because there’s a sort of ripple in the flow but you can’t quite figure what’s been taken away. In spots, the things that get added have just enough of a disruptive quality at first to make you pay attention. Then, in moments, they’re subsumed into the general flow like they’ve always been there and you just pulse onward. A great piece. Throughout The Looming Machine, Ridley’s theme of “a secular apocalypse, the feeling of being cheated of our futures by the wealthy, the search for deeper truths within, and the hope for a better world” is supported with sound bites, interesting drop-ins that aren’t over-done. Enough tension exists within the music that he doesn’t need to beat us about the head with it.
The Looming Machine is one of those beat-based releases where, as I listen, my hand keeps drifting over to the volume knob to turn it up a little more. It’s aggressive but doesn’t just pummel; it’s catchy but it keeps a raw edge. It’s intelligent, has something to say, but also knows that it needs to hook you in. Definitely something to dig into in your somewhat darker moments. Have a listen.
Available from Sparkwood Records.