The artist name may have changed, and there is certainly development, but Berlin based Australian, Beres Jackson, is still deep in the waters of the chopped up, downbeat electronica in which he used to swim as Karoshi. Full disclosure, the label I run released an album and a couple of singles for Karoshi back in the early 2010s, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that I’m a fan of his music. But there hasn’t actually been much of it in the half decade since Jackson left Australia and holed up in Berlin. So I was delighted to see a note out of the blue on a Facebook feed that he’s struck out on his own now, the world of Soundcloud and Bandcamp meaning the idea of labels is less and less important for underground producers, and has a new album.
In the Karoshi days, the ghosts of múm and Boards of Canada loomed fairly large in Jackson’s sound world, given its own edge by the inclusion of his brother, David, on skittering live drums, Beres’ own guitar work and the occasional guest musician or vocalist. The swooping minor key melodies remain in play for Vacant Lake. But this music is far more synthetic, the ghosts in the machine looming much larger. ‘Waiting’ and ‘Listen Out’ both rest on short snippets of disembodied vocal waft. There’s a sense of humanity in there somewhere but it feels more eerily dystopian surrounded by choking synths and rhythms that never settle into the regularity of trip-hop (or its sample based earthiness). These rhythms head interstellar. Whereas Karoshi’s influences were artists that relied on a sense of hypnagogic nostalgia, Vacant Lakes’ nostalgia is far less organic. In the face of a contemporary culture which veers to the political right in what feels like constant shouting matches, Surface feels like it garners its effect by turning subliminal unease in to sounds that seep. It is understated in a way that, when I think it through, I’ve almost not noticed has largely disappeared from musics both underground and overground. There are no ‘big’ sounds. And therein lies its power.
Many of Surface’s tracks are very brief, sub-three minutes, with just the odd workout like ‘Pressure’ heading into more regular electronic lengths. But they never feel sketchy, incomplete, or thrown away. They are a tightly strung series of vignettes which flow together into a unified half hour suite. It both hints at the apprehension of what it is to live in a western culture which always told itself that it was the promised land, while sounding like a future that could be the flickers of life that rise up, hesitantly, from its demise. I’ve no idea if I’m reading way too much into these sounds, and perhaps Jackson just loves melancholy. But successful art always comes with the baggage of its time, and this music feels, to me, exactly how I feel watching the world at the moment. Humanness sublimated under the synthetic machine, who’s glossy sheen belies the fact that, deep down, it knows the truth.