Ionophore, Sinter Pools

iono_sinterDarkness and cacophony. You down with that? You’ll need to be in order to get past the first track on Sinter Pools from Ionophore. The trio of Leila Abdul-Rauf, Jan Hendrich, and Ryan Honaker form the group, bringing together a very heavy blend of neoclassical influence, thick electronic treatments, voice, and massive brushstrokes of darkness. That first barrier, the title track, screams at you in a dissonant voice courtesy of horns from Abdul-Rauf. It’s quite aggressive and is going to send some listeners running. But the secret is that behind that imposing wall are layers of dark beauty, waves of insistent beats, and some deep immersion. I will honestly say that when I first hit play my initial reaction was, “Oh hell, no.” I wasn’t ready for some typical dark ambient face-punch that was just going to relentlessly assail me. So it came as a surprise when the screaming ended and Abdul-Rauf began singing on “Infantman.” What’s this? I thought. Well, it’s a landscape still painted in somber tones, but it doesn’t want to hurt me. It wants me to see. To show me around. From there, Sinter Pools becomes a very different and cool thing, indeed. “Infantman” and “Unchecked” are better examples of what this album is about, two pieces that are more darkwave than dark ambient. Steady, deep beats count off over windy bass drones, and Abdul-Rauf’s voice comes in from a dream and winds around it all. The shouting is gone, the clatter is left behind, and the real trip starts. “Infantman” kicks off with springy metal sounds and dark drones before the singing starts, then smooths out under the calming influence of the vocals. “Unchecked” works its way up to intensity, growing a buzzing back wall of drones. “Sequester” plays out like medieval polyphony slipped beneath moaning pads and stretched into new shapes. Tapping percussion and the return of the horns rebound it off into another direction in its last two minutes or so. At its end, it pares back to the voices. “Checked” slips in some sounds borrowed from glitch, goes heavy on the bass chords, and floats in another dose of those delicious, ghostly vocals.

To me, it’s pretty obvious: skip the first track (you’ve been warned) and dive into the hazy, dim dream-world of Sinter Pools. By the time I had reached the end, I had forgotten about that wailing wall of noise and was quite ready to go through it again. This is a very detail-heavy work, and you’ll need headphones to soak up all the small touches, light treatments, and smooth layering going on here. The eight tracks shoot by in under 40 minutes and, with that one exception, leave me wanting more. This album was a pleasant surprise given the way it started, and I’m glad I didn’t give in to my urge to shut it off after a minute. I’m sure that from the composers’ standpoint that first track serves a distinct purpose. I just think it’s a dark ambient gate that may keep less adventurous listeners out. Which is a shame, because what waits beyond in these Sinter Pools is very much worth hearing.

Available from Malignant Records.

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