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thisquietarmy: Unconquered & Resurgence

img  Tobias Fischer

A mere six years have passed since Eric Quach sent his anything but quiet one-man-army on its maiden mission (codenamed Wintersleeper), only three since his full-length debut expanded the reach of his morsecoded messages far beyond the limits of his homebase Montreal. And yet, so much has happened between Unconquered's spellbinding reverberations and Resurgence's hallucinatory maelstrom that aeons seem to have passed in creative terms. Not only has Quach built up an impressive international infrastructure for his oeuvre, establishing his tqa-imprint as a respected outlet for his own material and that of a wide range of befriended artists; not merely has he made it from the anonymity of yet-another-guitar-and-looping-pedal-artist to the covers of leading printzines. Most remarkably, he has created, just five entries into his album-discography, a catalogue that feels more adventurous and explorative than a lifetime's work of others. From the sweet nightmare of Blackhaunter to the electrically sizzling landscapes of Aftermath and from the cinematic depression of his Death- and Valley-collaborations with Jon Attwood's Yellow6 to the orchestral fuzz of solo-effort Vessels, Quach has achieved an impressive feat: Gaining new fans with each new release, while securing the loyalty of his long-time followers.

What has kept his audience coming back has been his cunning ability to create cohesive and highly original album-experiences. The album for Quach, one could say, constitutes a framework within which seemingly disparate elements can be bound together and juxtaposed to fantastical effect: Since and including Unconquered, thisquietarmy has, depending on the critic's personal background, been described as post-rock, krautrock, atmospheric metal, drones, ambient, sound art, experimental improvisation, shoegazer and, although to a lesser extent, gothic. These frankness with which these influences are laid bare indicates that not only are they are vital in terms of providing each work in question a unique and recognisable sound design, but that their point is neither post-modernist pastiche nor mere imitation. Instead, throughout his oeuvre, Quach has played with these styles similar to how other producers would play with their Leitmotifs and arrangements. There is a sense of estrangement when a section of instrumental wave emerges from a passage of delirious ambient pierced by cold whip-lash-like snares; when the  emotionally uplifting third side of Unconquered is followed by the surreal fever-vision of „Dronewars“; or when Meryem Yildiz's cool, yet sensual voice rises phoenix-like from the smouldering ashes of „Summer Isolation“. It is in these moments, that a switch is flipped in the brain and the membrane between the world of auditory impressions and physical reality becomes permeable.

Putting on a thisquietarmy-record is akin to crossing the border into a foreign land, all senses alert and receptive to the influx of both fascinating and bewildering stimuli. Individual tracks still work as minutely crafted and highly immersive compositions in their own right, but it is only within the overall context of the work in question that their sense is fully revealed, all of its themes, textures and rhythms bound together by a sympathetically resonating acoustic field. It is this ideal that Quach's work has consistently been spiralling towards and which has now more palpable than ever on his latest full-length Resurgence. A laboriously crafted studio product comprising a full album and an hour's worth of bonus-tracks from the same period, it was consciously conceptualised with its live-reproducibility in mind and is consequently all about flow and ambiance, growing more dark and disturbing the deeper one enters into its bowls. The first four tracks especially work like the opening movement of a symphony in noise, erupting volcano-like from a primeval soup of feedback and distortion into shamanic drumming and agile bass lines on top of whose shimmering crest Quach unfolds his motives. The sound is blurry, brutish and bunker-like, but the melodies are sweet, intimate and strikingly simple, functioning both as a hypnotic initiation rite and a foil against which to contrast the more atmospheric, seductive and psychedelic middle section of the album - before the record comes full-circle again on majestic closer „Gone to the Unseen“.

While the first disc of Resurgence exercises a remarkable pull and claustrophobically dense mood, it is never without its seams, breaths and breaks, with a track like industrially-tinged „Mechanical Heart“ disrupting the glacial calm of its neighbouring compositions. In this regard, it echoes the approach of Unconquered, aptly re-released in sync with the former as a double-LP on heavy 180g vinyl. With a little imagination one can occasionally sense a bit more reflection in these earlier pieces, a flirtation with extreme ambitions and electrifying experimentation. And yet, with parts of both albums having been recorded within close temporal proximity, there were bound to be intersections as well: Just like Resurgence, for example, Unconquered's first side comprises a suite of pieces gracefully flowing in- and out of each other, a twisting and turning soundscape of perpetually changing moods. Unlike many of his colleagues, Quach isn't using loops as a tool for repetition, but a means of achieving gradual, dream-like transitions and change, an otherworldly stream-of-consciousness which moves at an all but imperceptible rate yet never stands still completely. Pieces of pure drift and ambient tranquility take turns with explosive rock-moments, pastoral folk as well as vocal contributions and even straight-forward song structures - miraculously, the more diverse the music, the more immersive the journey becomes.

In many respects, Unconquered feels like a pool of possibilities, like a road with a plethora of side paths, each opening up into equally intriguing creative territory. It is not so much a point of departure, but a table of contents, the sections of which still need to be written. And despite the perplexing precision of its vision, Resurgence in no way appears to mark its last chapter.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: thisquietarmy
Homepage: Denovali Records

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