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  • Filed under: Review
  • 09/26/2013

Huerco S. Colonial Patterns

Colonial Patterns has drawn many comparisons to Basic Channel. After all, both the native Kansan's debut album on the Software label and the work of the legendary German duo share a fondness for recordings that sound equally muddy and metallic. They really know how to get the most out of that murk, playing for ghostly absence and overwhelming physical presence in one fell swoop. But when did Basic Channel ever channel anything as freighted with historical significance as colonialism, as heavy as Native-American genocide? Referencing something of real-world consequence doesn't necessarily make for more consequential music, and the Ernestus–von Oswald catalog is in no danger of a coup from the currently New York–based Huerco S. But the comparison downplays this album's uniqueness. This is body music in a distinctly different form, superficial similarities aside. According to interviews, the album grew out of Huerco S.' fascination with the mound-building cultures that originally inhabited the region he grew up in. It's heavy stuff, literally and conceptually, but it functions just fine without pretentions. Colonial Patterns does indeed sound and feel like—to paraphrase the artist himself—digging holes and filling them back in. It's a work of and inspired by ritualized labor, haunted by the irretrievable loss of a culture.

But on to the music itself: it's creepy and earthen, abstract enough to fall asleep to, but like Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, virtually ensures you'll wake up in a state of existential panic while it's still playing. This is a difficult row to till, and it speaks well of Huerco S.' long-term artistic viability that he's not just cranking out the "outsider house" people have often associated him with. "'Iińzhiid" contains the kind of orgiastic sampler abuse that marks Madteo's productions, but is much more coherent, even celebratory, than one would expect from that producer. Huerco S. has a talent for latching on to the weird piping that connects notes on a cheap synth, and reassembles those sounds into masses that suggest entropy but have a kind of autochthonous persistence. The wooden motif on "Ragtime U.S.A. (Warning)" could almost be an OS alert sound, so it's not as if he's trying to dwell in some past era. Huerco S. has an uncanny knack for the uncanny acoustics of a digital world, even if it sounds like he records onto tape. (He doesn't.)

"Prinzif," on the other hand, comes across like some unholy alliance of a grotty, lost Frak tape and a Ken Burns documentary, were such a pan-and-scan monstrosity possible. Add to that the album's visceral artwork—which somehow looks like a sepia-toned Discharge record cover—and the LP's tonal consistency breaks open even further. These resonances are more than likely accidental, not that it matters. It's kind of like a techno scrying mirror—what we see in Colonial Patterns is determined by our conditioning and expectations, but, freakily, it seems to come from outside of ourselves.

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