The analog assault is an uncompromising one. It can leave you breathless. Raw, bold, and often distorted within an inch of being demonic, as a live spectacle you're left wondering just how this act can manage to be so good, so consistent. After all, this is strictly improvised. But then, this is Karenn and it's this very show which justly singles them out as one of the most popular live acts on the underground clubbing and dance music festival circuit.
Karenn's members, Blawan and Pariah, are each distinct, individual talents within contemporary techno. It's the latter who, with Here From Where We Are, presents his debut artist album. And Pariah does so in stark contrast to his endeavors as part of Karenn.
Here From Where We Are is largely an ambient techno affair. The crunching beats, bold bass lines, and psychedelic melodies of his Safehouses EP are absent, as are the rave references present on that EP and on his other R&S release Orpheus. And, distinct from Karenn, where Blawan and Pariah can be seen vibing off each other from behind a mass of interconnected cables and analog gear, it is safe to assume that this album has been a solitary pursuit utilizing the computer absent from their performances. There is a preciseness and consideration to this music that implies a digital involvement.
The sections of music here bleed into one another, not only from track to conjoined track but many times within the same song as one idea slowly, gradually morphs into the next. By doing so, Pariah creates a rich and continuously evolving journey through different sonic textures. Although beatless, it is not altogether one of those ambient albums you could play in the background and ignore, nor necessarily fall asleep listening to. At times unsettling and industrial-sounding, this is far from forgettable music; it is engaging, futuristic, and trippy as hell. And though it may be an unexpected turn, particularly for fans of Pariah's bass bin bothering releases to date, it is a purposeful release which, upon repeated listens, comes across as music from the very heart of the man.
Such soundscapes will not be wholly unfamiliar territory to the keenest of Pariah fans. Much here is comparable to the title track of the Safehouses EP, or "Among Those Metal Trees" from his Rift EP. But in tying them all together in wonderfully programmed long form, this music no longer feels anomalous to the meat of Pariah's work. It feels integral. Even if this is to be his sole long-playing excursion into such terrain, you suspect that this type of music will persist, released or unreleased, as a part of Pariah's expression.
The album kicks off with a slow, science-fiction indebted intro, not dissimilar to Pink Floyd's "Welcome To The Machine." But rather than anchoring us to the organic and familiar as Pink Floyd did with acoustic guitar and vocals, Pariah instead introduces a manic, attention-grabbing, and uptempo industrial rhythm. Trills of what sounds like a synthesized flute emerge, but even this recognizable sound appears bizarre, otherworldly, and also psychedelic in juxtaposition to the frantic backing.
Vast, alien landscapes are evoked in “Pith.” Clever music. So much space. Its ambiance is calming after such a vivid opener, and this mood is continued on the beautiful “Seed Bank,” where a wealth of synthesizer lines interweave, as do the samples which ride atop. At one moment they sound like birds and before you even notice them change they instead sound like drops of rain. This sound of water is a theme that recurs continually throughout the album. It creates a distinct backdrop to the entire work and, in drawing the listener back, presents a grounding from Pariah’s wild explorations. The end result is that, as so often, the repetition lends the piece a kaleidoscopic air; Here From Where We Are could easily be as sodden in lysergic acid as it is in rainfall.
The image of downpour is continued in the subtle top end percussion of “Linnaea”; beatless techno which scatters rippling lines of melody throughout. Multiple layers echo throughout the piece, through curious key changes as the track ebbs restlessly. Synthesizer lines from the background rise up several times to lead prominently. In doing so, it appears as if the track is simultaneously exploring various tangents of its own underlying suggestion. Each route is compelling and interesting; it's one of the album highlights.
“At The Edge,” which opens the album's second side, is not the only time that pioneering Greek electronic music composer Vangelis comes to mind when listening to Here From Where We Are. The track sounds very much like science fiction soundtrack material and also, in the interplay of melody and bass, not unlike vintage Aphex Twin. Unexpectedly, it enters a discordant section, like free jazz as played by machines. It places the listener in a state of motion, as though traveling through an ever-evolving backdrop. You re-emerge somewhere more familiar but again different.
The church-like organ of “Conifer” follows. Initially, it appears simplistic, but each note is granted a different slant from a dizzying array of treatments, disorientating the listener until a Vangelis-like soundtrack returns in “Rain Soup," which could easily be the soundtrack to a deleted rainy scene in Bladerunner.
There's a curious time signature to “Drug The Lake,” as though Pariah has spliced a tape loop carelessly. But you know that simply cannot be the case. The method has the effect of wrong-footing the listener and it's a trick he employs several times over the album. Sounds end abruptly; you question whether you might have just heard a mistake—but considering the care taken throughout this rich and detailed piece of work, it's nigh on impossible to believe so.
In a career less than a decade old, Pariah has earned himself quite the reputation as a producer of dancefloor demanding R&S material and as a member of Karenn. His acclaim is justly attributed. You would hope that such a reputation would not be a hindrance to him releasing an ambient album such as this under his name. Regardless of past achievements, Here From Where We Are is a fascinating revelation of a façet to Pariah many will not yet know. It deserves to be approached without the baggage of expectation and heard affording the same care with which it has so obviously been made.
Houndstooth will release Here From Where We Are on July 13.