Since he first emerged back around the turn of the millennium, Venezuelan-born sound artist Carlos Giffoni spent the next 15 years earning a reputation as one of the ‘go-to’ figures in New York City’s experimental / noise scene, having collaborated with everyone from Jim O’Rourke and Thurston Moore through to Laurel Halo and Prurient. As well as being the organiser and curator of New York’s No Fun Fest, he also ran the No Fun Productions label, which released Oneohtrix Point Never’s debut album.
Since he relocated to Los Angeles in 2012, the formerly prolific Giffoni has been steadfastly quiet, taking a break from releasing music in order to work on some ‘secret projects’. Indeed, this latest album ‘Vain’ on Swedish label Ideal Recordings offers up Giffoni’s first new material in six years, and while he’s been responsible for more than 50 different collaborative releases during his career, this marks only his fourth official LP (following 2008’s ‘Adult Life’).
On the evidence of the nine tracks collected here, Giffoni’s used his time away from the electronic music scene to reconfigure things from the ground up, taking his tracks off in a completely new direction. Indeed, there’s barely anything that you’d traditionally associate with the noise scene in evidence on this album, with Giffoni instead using modular synths with no computer manipulation or overdubs to craft dizzying psychedelia that fuses pulsating arpeggios with minimalist techno rhythms and ambience.
There’s also a thematic concept at work here, with the album representing the sound to Giffoni’s imagined film, about a young woman with psychokinetic powers named Vain, lost in the deserts and beaches of California trying to find answers to her mysterious past. Opening track ‘The Desert’ certainly manages to conjure up the sense of becoming lost in a landscape of shifting sand and mirages, but it’s a pretty serene journey as faded out layers of distorted drones fall and swell rhythmically against underlying bass ambience, the tidal rhythms of the crackling, static-y edges inducing a deep sense of contemplation and calm more than anything else.
By contrast, ‘Erase The World’ sees a monotonous 4/4 kickdrum pulse assuming the foreground as looped melodic tones get manipulated into an atonal swirl of piercing noises against a droning wash of delayed-out textures, and indeed it’s easily one of the most tension-building tracks here, even as the shearing noises suddenly cut out, leaving the implacable rhythms to forge on mechanically by themselves into the darkness. Elsewhere, ‘Hands’ illustrates the more kosmiche / ambient influences that predominate on much of this album as Giffoni sends layers of delayed-out modular synth sequences winding out hypnotically like snakes against a completely beatless backdrop of waspy droning analogue synth tones.
‘Vain’s Face’ gets more glittery, sending layers of icy melodic textures trilling against a wash of droning sound that gets constantly phase-shifted all over the stereo spectrum, resulting in some seriously disorienting effects over a good pair of headphones. It’s difficult to categorise what Giffoni is doing here, and there’s a distinctly raw feel to many of the tracks collected here, thanks to the working methods involved. Still, patient psychedelic explorers should find plenty to disappear into here.