Nonima: Morphism. (Out Now)
Electronic music reviews are fascinating because you can imagine the trepidation of the reader who will often be approaching such a review with either a sense of repetition,preconception or defensiveness about the music under scrutiny.
This is most definitely down to the sheer volume of reviews of such abundant music online these days and the genre itself, coated as it is with incredible variations, eclectic styles, art deconstruction, conflicting and yet ultimately un-ending idea's and arguments of what electronic music is suppose to be or how it's meant to sound or be produced.
There seems to be a strange increasingly blurry void between the relevance of signed and unsigned music and a veritable soft tar staircase of understanding that has to be climbed in order to try and get a grip on the "electronic music scene" of 2011.
That said, they are also incredibly fun to both write and read, often impenetrable and enlightening at the same time, filled with gloriously absurd terms and analogies. Did music reviewers in the past have it any easier when the music industry was different and bands were 'bands' as is often said? It's tempting to think so but probably unlikely.
Scotland's rich musical heritage should already be apparent without much further need for analysis here but in the last 15 years, the electronic music coming from the country has been consistently fascinating and ever evolving. Perhaps much like Poland, Norway, Russia, Canada and the more remote parts of the US, the sense of confinement, vast landscapes and a particular way of life contribute to such direction and ideas.
It's with those regional based thoughts in mind that I approach the new album release from Scotland's Tam Ferrans, prolific producer of experimental,
electronic and beat based sounds for many years now under a variety of pseudonyms including Mitoma and Altered:Carbon and head of prolific Scottish music label Section27
His particular personality under the microscope today however is Nonima. With a healthy back catalogue of varied albums, Ep's and remixes under each of his guises, this new Nonima album entitled "Morphism" follows last year remarkable and well received Nonima outing "Bit encryption".
The first thing that strikes you about Nonima's sound is the depth and the production values.Crisp, captivating and immediate production that never sounds strained or rushed. It's been mentioned before but I think it's worth bringing up again here that previous Nonima and Mitoma albums have occasionally drawn very lazy comparisons with a certain famous electronic Manchester Duo on Warp records. Having glitchy beats and experimental time signatures does not make an act a clone,yet the comparisons still get carted out. This is short sighted at best and while it's safe to say that Ferrans output will most definitely and easily appeal to fans of said outfit, it's clear to tell after listening to just a few tracks that there's no carbon copying happening and you get the sense of a very different and possibly more approachable (one might even say danceable) agenda at work.
Any influences that might be apparent under the surface here have a far more varied catchment area, echo's of early Richard Devine,the droning sensibilities and head pounding beats and experimentalism of Mick Harris, the micro detail and machine'isms of Lexaunculpt and Arovane put in the freezer and deconstructed further, the confidence and energy of Glasgow's Slam and Soma but without any Glowsticks or drunken fumbles. (Well not IN the music anyway) Nonima brings beats and he wants you to get lost, dance like a skeleton and bring them to your Science lab to extract their DNA. If your names not down though, you're not getting in.
So "Morphism" is brought to the table and the energy in the room shifts.
Opener 'Implode' starts proceedings in the most unexpected, painterly and enveloping manner. Washes of flashing synthetic plankton laced synths do their best attempt at drowning you with no promise of being saved although you may unnervingly question yourself whether you would want to be plucked from such a blissful aural haven.
This short intro only gives you a limited time to breathe before the ominous pulses and
binary skree of "Stimat" opens the centrifuge and throws you inside. Primarily based on a dramatic and frenetic glitch beat structure that stomps along while simultaneously giving the impression of fragility, once it hooks you, you'll quickly realise there's something quite fresh and complex happening here, both in feel and sound design.
'Chasm' as the title suggests is the number that splits the ground wide open for the listener here, the hints of darkness that permeate through "Stimat" in the distance suddenly makes its presence known here. This is a huge number, atonally attacking the senses with an undercurrent of delicious over-driven sub bass, chiseling beats that seem to have emerged from a futuristic UFO Grabber only containing mutant Industrial/Dub crossover specimens and that taunt you wishing you'd come up with such floor breaking madness.
'Mefrac' tumbles out sporting a different signature and an even more twisted mask, has it come from the same machine or does it live in the coils hidden from public view? Either way, it's infectious and you may feel inclined to roll on the ground or let your inhibitions go as it pours its slate sound through your capillaries. Strange untranslatable and heavily processed machine language suddenly emerges hinting at an attempt to communicate. Only repeated listens may hold the answer and with music this addictive, replays are a certainty.
'Suboxide' suddenly drops in the room, invisible but immediately audible and stopping you in your tracks, demanding you listen and making anyone else there fall silent like a tired hitchhiker entering a coven and asking if anyone knows about "The legend". The Massive industrial laced cutting beat is the showcase here, following a distinctively soundtrack-esque and timely melodic framework. This is the sound of drama, a confused outsider being perused by shadowy dangerous characters through a rusting, bleak metalscape.
'Root' may be the sound of that character being captured or maybe escaping to an even more alien and more metallic, morphing beat base. Whatever path we are being led down here (and it's most definitely a journey of discovery) is starting to break up like a corrupted digital forest encroaching on what was previously a deceptively luminous road to escape. Cold tones and sinister pounding bass make you almost want to look behind you, the use of space turned on its head and glitchy clatter falling like snow in your eyes.
If 'root' attempted to lead you astray and trip you up then "Looking glass" is the reward for letting yourself get absorbed into this musical map. The synth sound hinted at towards the end of 'Root' suddenly flourishes here, comes to the forefront and feels like a glinting light, catching your breath with an epic frozen melodic net. Although the exact reason that Ships have a gendered pronoun is long lost to history, if songs or 'tracks' were to be given a gender, then "Looking Glass" would be a She and then the reason would be obvious, stunning beauty and mystique.But this She ends with a quiet vulnerability and aural breakdown. A personality.
From here on Morphism carries on a steady and consistent pace, delivering heady beats and hypnotic glitchy wire-work until we arrive at one of the standout moments which comes in pill form under the catchy name of "Symmetrophobia", definitely not available from your local pharmacist and if such a pharmacist were to exist, it would be a labyrinthine nightmare, constructed from wonky diagonal lines and rounded edges, stairs that lead nowhere and filled with retro arcade machines with no names, the sounds of which can be heard emanating and controlled throughout this wonderfully
playful piece which is intertwined with some of the strongest beatwork on the album.
With "Morphism" Nonima has delivered another eclectic and remarkably assured electronic cut. Nonima is producing some of the most essential glitch and beat based electronic music coming out just now. This is at a time where, as I described in the opening of the review, we are almost crawling to a halt with a seemingly endless flood of music coming out every second and with little way to assimilate or deal with the flow, unless you have your wits about you, have a bag of patience and a tin foil digital wet suit on, it's easy to get swallowed in the flood.
This album provides a lot of aural oxygen and we need it. An essential listen.
Morphism is available here in a highly recommended special edition bundled with an
additional six track EP and bonus Artwork at Bandcamp
Morphism Special Edition
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Nonima on Myspace