Coaxial – Neo/ism

Posted: 3 May 2020 in Albums
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Christopher Nosnibor

Coaxial is one of a number of musical vehicles for musician and academic Benjamin J. Heal. For the uninitiated, it’s perhaps worth running some of his biographical information:

His prolific COWMAN project (2005-present) continues to plumb the depths of puerile noise-punk and a lo-fi trash aesthetic, following the footsteps of a more composed Hanatarash and early Boredoms. 2014’s acclaimed Tosokurui-no, under the pseudo-Japanese guise of Hitobashira-ni, illuminated the artistic potential found in exploring the limits of control and chaos in a band environment utilizing guitar, drums, synthesizer, sampler and gong. 2016’s The Brightness on Dead Water (as morimori) showcased contrasts between digital and analog, electric and acoustic, songs and sounds; nudging the chaotic themes of its predecessor into fields of more organic abstraction.

Coaxial represents the outlet for his explorations in instrumental electronica, and on Neo/ism there’s humour and wordplay not just in the song titles, but in the compositions themselves. This is apt, given that the Neoist art movement was largely satirical in its purpose, revelling in the depthlessness of postmodernism, and sometimes defined as ‘a prefix and a suffix with nothing in between’. Accordingly, the atmosphere on Neo/ism is denser than its light and airy predecessor, Ear Kites I (2018), but rather less heavy and sinister than 2017’s Reductio ad Absurdum.

It’s a vintage organ synth sound and even more vintage drum machine track that kicks starts the album with the seven-minute ‘Homobile’ (geddit? Linguistics jokes are always a nonstop laughriot). It lands between chillwave and krautrock, but some subtly de-synced chord changes have a vaguely disorientating effect at the start, before tapering off towards semi-ambience around halfway through and the beats dissolve to vapour.

‘Jocks v. Cocks’ is all about the juxtaposition: the track goes harder on the percussion, while the bubbling synths warp and twist, before ‘The Gay Gun’ plunges deeper into bloopy robotix territory, a melting pot of textures and tones swimming in a kind of sonic Brownian motion. ‘The Lonesome Onanist’ goes darker, and Heal’s application of long, grating drone notes that defines many of the tracks on Neo/ism is very much at the fore here.

There are strong technoindustrial elements in the mix, but then there’s a lot going on throughout, often simultaneously. Moreover, the composition seem to become increasingly strange and dislocated as the album progresses: ‘Homocrcy’ marks the mid-point with some spaced-out, space-age dubtronica, ‘Pink Noise’ crackles and pops in a time-shifting microtonal explosion, and ‘Gay Baby’ sounds like it should have featured on the soundtrack to an episode of Nathan Barley.

This all perhaps leads to the question of how serious any of this is, which in turn leads to the question of whether or not it actually matters whether or not the intent is parodic: one can’t hear intent in a recording, and can only engage with the contents of the recording itself. Given the way in which the sound of Neo/ism is characterised by contrast and variance, the experience elicits no one response, but many. And it’s quite a groove.

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