Midira Records – 25th November 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

This album is, as the title suggests, a soundtrack work. Although released under the moniker Houses of Worship, it’s essentially the second album by Thisquietarmy x Hellenica.

The summer of 2020 saw Eric Quach (thisquietarmy) and Jim Demos (Hellenica) come together to record a collaborative album, which emerged as Houses of Worship, described as ‘an epic work of experimental industrial ambient, is an ode to dying buildings and the unwelcome gentrification of neighborhoods’.

This, the follow-up, came about after they ‘played their first concerts in the streets of Montreal from inside of a cube truck. These performances were filmed and recorded to produce "TQAXHLNKA: MIGRATION,” a twenty-two-minute experimental art documentary and an accompanying soundtrack. The film simulated the cautionary tale of what the Montreal arts and music scene could look like in a post-pandemic world. As the title suggests, it reflects the highly concerning exodus of artists constantly being divided and pushed out further from their community.’

At twenty-two minutes in duration, it’s a minute short of the magic spot, but this is a magnificently atmospheric work that goes beyond dark ambience and ventures into the vastly cinematic, space-drifting expansiveness that transports the listener beyond the terrestrial domain.

The album contains more audio than the film’s running time, and drags the listener through a bleak journey which articulates via the medium of sound the themes and scenes which preoccupy the duo, who explain, ‘With the current struggles linked to the pandemic restrictions, we have seen the acceleration of the gentrification process in neighborhoods where the heart of these activities takes place. As a result, a multitude of venues, studios and artistic spaces – places used for exchanging ideas with our peers and building communities meant to inspire and nurture our souls had to shut down.’

The tone is dark, the textures industrial, yet tinged with echo-heavy melancholy, a combination of anger, emptiness, and sadness. The soaring drones inspire a certain elevation, while the gritty grind is the sound of construction, regeneration. Gentrification is the face of capitalism eating itself; having run out of new ideas, it’s simply fallen into a cycle of recreation and rehashing. Upscaling, upwhatevering, it’s all about selling the new version of the same od shit at a higher price to the same saturated market. When will enough ever be enough?

Meanwhile, capitalism follows the former tropes of the avant-garde, destroying to rebuild, and Migration is the soundtrack to that.

There are lots of drones, lots of dolorous tones, lots of scraping, sinewy mid-range and gravel-grabbing, churning lower spectrum sounds, as well a haunting piano and infinite empty space. The titles paint the picture in themselves, and it’s dark, smoggy, sulphurous. ‘Total Waste Management’; ‘Polytethylene Terephthalate’; ‘Oil Terminal Tank Farm’ are all evocative of stark industrial scenes.

‘Industrial Estate Bird’s-Eye’ is a haunting wail, presumably of a theremin – over a low, throbbing drone that’s reminiscent of Suicide, and elsewhere, the duo conjure thick, billowing clouds of doom that sound like Sunn O))) behind a power station, as dense rumbles ripple forth. The twelve-and-a-half-minute finale, ‘Throbbing Magnetics’ fulfils the promise of its title, a bucking beast of claustrophobic, crushing gloom, and you feel yourself dragged into the sludge of that relentless, interminable cycle of collapse and construct.

It’s an accomplished work, but a depressing one, and listening places to the fore the abject nature of late capitalism, and the fact that any attempt to save the planet is futile in the face of the onslaught of bulldozers. Redevelopment has nothing to do with environment, only profit, and hard as you might rebel, as strongly as you may protest, you’re powerless against the big money. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s the sad truth. Houses of Worship recognise this. They may hope for better, but Migration is not a protest record, but the sound of grim acceptance.

AA

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