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Thisquietarmy: Meridians; Aftermath

img  Tobias Fischer

A deep, sonorous, serene and primordially pulsating tonal stream, born from silence and swelling like the Amazon during the rainy season. An airy, ethereal, ephemeral and frailly floating harmonic cloud, descending from the ether and hovering in mid-air like a dragonfly on a sultry summer night. A ritual between a massive wall of texture and a translucent, ghostly tenebrae. A rite of passage, a phenomenon beyond the grasp of logic, rime or reason.

It takes a while to realign your senses: You're in the middle of enigmatically titled „41° 52' 50" N, 87° 42' 39" W“, the opening track off Scott Cortez' and thisquietarmy's „Meridians“ and it doesn't sound anything like two Guitar players sending tracks hence and forth on the Internet, but more like a duet for tectonic plates. On this paradigm of monolithic minimalism, the protagonists are drilling straight into meteoric marrow, into a sonic substance of both majestic elementary force and impenetrable granitic density. There is no resolution to this exchange, no untying of the knot: For just under thirteen minutes, the spectral symbiosis between high and low frequencies continues, harmonic and melodic variations forming on top of the subterranean organ point like ice crystals on an endless lake, only to sink back into the lap of quietude and the arms of infinity, back to the place of pure shapes and imagination whence they came from.

Thanks to its impressive restraint and rawness, „Meridians“ is undeniably presenting itself as a temporary pinnacle in Eric Quach's passionate efforts of transcending the stereotypical sound and performance techniques of his instrument. In a recording career now spanning eleven releases in a mere five years, it has always been an integral part of his philosophy to regard the Guitar foremost as a suitable tool for realising a personal vision. Technical virtuosity accordingly means nothing here, nor do dusty Rock postures or flashy stage antics. Instead, his works strives for sonic richness, a sense of emotional and textural cinematics as well as a warm, organic, dreamy and occasionally consciously blurry sound. The latter is particularly revealing: In striking contrast to the digital exactness and meticulously timed loops of some of his colleagues, the thisquietarmy-discography eschews the quantised accuracy of software sequencers, wilfully juxtaposes different metrums and  wallows in harmonic ambiguity, a preference shared with Canadian compatriot Aidan Baker. Calm and harmony are of imminent importance to Quach, but rather than serving them to his audience on a plate, he is forcing listeners, as it were, to walk on broken glass and pass through purgatory to catch a glimpse of their reflection – it is the traditional ambient aesthetic upside down.

Trips like these could never be conceived at the drawing board: Each track is the result of piercing the moment's surface, of tapping into its potential without questioning. Evaluation takes place at a later stage: What turns out to be unfeasible is discarded, what's inspiring remains and whenever an idea proves to be unreproducible at a later stage, it is preserved as an improvisatory document. „Aftermath“, Quach's recent release on French label Basses Frequences, is a case in point. Its astute concept and astounding fluency are the result of recurring layers of crackle and effects to create barely noticeable tactile cohesion between different tracks. Taking in threateningly subdued Metal-chords, medievally tinged Folk-influences and Industrial electricities, there is a pervasive taste of decay, ruin and the apocalypse to the album – a notion further reinforced by the discretely Gothic track titles. Hiding behind these fearful symmetries, however, are structures of at times pastoral grace: Choral voices, bluesy licks, sweetly speckled chord cycles and naive melodies, which sometimes sound as though they were culled from an old toy keyboard.

By superimposing and contrasting these divergent elements, a hypnotic narrative emerges, built around the duopoles of the artificial and the natural, of man and machine, the past and the present, joy and sorrow, life and death. Just as previously mentioned, the details of these topical barry centres remarkably remain implicit rather than fully spelled out, especially since they are frequently taking place at the same time. This is perhaps most apparent on „Finding the Fallen“, at eleven minutes a natural peak to the album. Opening with a passage of blissful reverie and a canonically arranged solo (in which a second voice quietly chases the leading melody's shadow), textures gradually grow more dense and suspenseful until they've coalesced into a kaleidoscopic wall of sound, in which motives are so bundled up that they effectively cancel each other out and merge into a single sheet of noise and harmony.

Such moments of sensory overload are rare on Aftermath, though, and alienation never a goal. Quite on the contrary: By cunningly dovetailing tracks with each other (for the transition between „The Iron Harvest“ and „Melted Lead“, Quach picks up a distinct tremolo to link the two pieces), the record is establishing a subtle, yet highly effective thematic field, allowing for orientation and indicating a clear direction. At the end, one is left with a sensation similar to having just watched a both touching and disturbing movie: Instilled with intense images and a wealth of experiences which need time to be properly digested.

It goes without saying that albums like these point to the fact that thisquietarmy has by now confidently emancipated itself from its immediate inspirations. Which may well be the reason why Quach felt the time had finally come to co-operate with Chicago-based Post-Rock apostle Scott Cortez, whose work under the lovesliescrushing banner was arguably the most traceable influence on his style, on aforementioned „Meridians“. In this regard, a revealing instant occurs when, on the B-side's „45° 30' 4" N, 73° 33' 29" W“, the opening passage (quite possibly unconsciously) references „Unearthing the Past“, Aftermath's closing track, thereby presenting their respective worlds not just as correlated, but complimentary. It is a subtle summary of the entire record, which by no means feels like a meeting between master and student, but firmly as a deeply respectful encounter at eye level.

In fact, whatever traces of their personalities may have been apparent at the outset literally dissolve into Meridians claustrophobic galaxy, owing to a production process, in which basic tracks were recorded at different places at the same time (explaining, as an aside, the curious naming of these pieces) and then reworked in isolation. Pitch-black and only tentatively lit up by the occasional melodic idea, the record label's claim that „Meridians“ can not just be played at the indicated 45rpm, but at an even more gruesomely slow 33, may be overstretching the point, but it does indicate an important truth: The journey isn't over yet, it has only just begun.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: thisquietarmy
Homepage: Scott Cortez
Homepage: Three Four Recordings
Homepage: Basses Frequences Records

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