Thursday, February 5, 2009

Embarker – Embarker [Malleable/Send Help]

Embarker is the pun-y solo guise of Michael Barker (get it? M. Barker?) who plays in other projects such as Sharks With Wings. This is his first LP as far as I can tell. I’m pretty far removed from the Philly noise scene so I’d never heard any of Barker’s work before. Last year’s Mincemeat or Tenspeed LP (also released by Malleable) was the only dose of Philly noise I’ve had and it was rad so I was obviously psyched to hear more.
Embarker treads in much darker waters than Mincemeat. This stuff is harsh and concentrated. Barker uses a variety of modified electronics along with a lapsteel-like instrument to whip up these shitstorms and I’m surprised he doesn’t trip himself up with as fast as these tracks move. The first side opens with “Fake Forrest/Former Friends”, about ten seconds of cut up vocal(?) sounds and then things get heavy. There is a lot of play between each channel so you can really hear the nuances with head phones. This track has a cyclical structure where there will be a heavy, heavy jackhammering of noise before backing off (slightly) and coming back full force. “Fuck Jesse Power” is one of my favorites and way too short at a minute. It’s a great heaving, lurch and roll with buried vocals. “Ars Nova Sweatshop” actually kinda conjures up that image, halfway between an audio art exhibition and a factory. There is a loop of chiming metallic tones sliced up just about beyond recognition. There seems to be a drumnbass/jungle influence on this record where sounds are fractured and reconstituted into impossibly complex rhythms. After hearing the endpoint of “Ars Nova Sweatshop” you don’t even remember how it started the original loop is manipulated and restructured so completely. “Resident Beardo” features a spoken intro over what sounds to me like a sample of a train going by. There are some great high frequencies here that sound like stuck or breaking gears which are intercut frantically with a low rumble. “Diamond Shoals” closes the side. The track actually has a melodic figure buried way down under the distortion and hi-pitched frequencies sure to make a dog kill itself. The sound source doesn’t seem to be electronic (maybe that lapsteel thing?) which is a nice change of pace.
The second side leads off with “Tiger Woods’ Teeth” which returns to the frenetic traffic jam of multiple 500bps rhythms. Barker plays with dynamics, revealing that behind all the static and noise there are some really cool, fucked up sounds skittering about. “Kings of the Beach” is built around a loop of gadgetry noises. There’s a really low, creeping almost drone-like sound that anchors the piece allowing for the other sounds to get chopped into a million little pieces without seeming messy. “Bring me the Head of JM” is intense and more vocally driven which I don’t respond to so much in harsh noise. I don’t know who JM is but if I was him/her I’d be scared out of my mind because Barker sounds like he means business. “Elizabeth City” is a shockingly pretty track featuring polyphonic synth burbling steeped in static which the occasional dropping of a heavy bass note. It’s a cool track and a nice respite from the pain and exhilaration of the rest of the album’s sound spectrum. “Invisible Yarmulke” closes the album. It’s a bit more clattering than the other tracks without a central driving force. Barker generates mostly an assortment of colliding percussive sounds but some synth tones pop up occasionally which is a nice surprise to find in the craggy din.
I have a love/hate relationship with harsh noise a lot of the time but this is some stuff I can get behind. It’s well-paced and the record keeps you guessing but there’s still a vaguely recognizable composition to most of the tracks here. This record could probably crumble some buildings if played loud enough too. The album is severe but also complex which is a potent combination.
I don’t see a credit anywhere but an A+ goes to whoever mastered this thing, sounds crisp and loud and amazing. A damn fine job. As far as looks go, this LP is the epitome of class. Screenprinted jacket with a big, matching insert and weird circular diagrams that show up on the back cover, insert and labels—even the record sleeve is a matching solid black rather than the standard white. They really wanted to make this look nice as can be and it shows. Still available from Send Help and Malleable for the low, low price of 10 bucks.

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