While most spent 2020 fretting about – well, everything – Massachusetts-based wrangler of old tech and tapes Howard Stelzer has used the worst year in recent memory to put the finishing touches to an expansive collection of tunes that’ve been on the boil for about a year and a half. The resultant triple-disc effort, described by its architect as “the most ridiculously ambitious thing I’ve done,” provides a lot of food for thought, and runs the gamut from dub-influenced tunes to dark ambient, disco, krautrock, field recordings and earth-eclipsing dark ambient. Rather than being scattershot, the album provides an insight into Stelzer’s musical peccadilloes, and provides a neat capstone to his career thus far.
Stelzer, whose other efforts have included teaching maths to small children, running a great label and providing an essential field guide to Bandcamp’s ever-burgeoning noise section, has long been an artist who works well with others. His catalogue features a wide array of joint releases, but this most recent triple-disc effort eclipses them all. Contributors for the work include experimental luminaries such as Peter Wright, Stephen Clover, Antony Milton, Sarah Hennies, Audrey Chen and Windy Weber, and their contributions (ranging from guitar to tapes, electronics, percussion and even voice) are corralled into a series of colour-named tracks.
Each track on the album provides food for a mental journey. There’s the ‘Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast’-meets-the-howling-void of opener ‘Blue’, the screams-and-caverns of ‘Cyan’ and the submerged club-in-a-meteor-shower vibes of ‘Emerald’. There’s shades of Barry Adamson’s work in ‘Lilac’, tinges of Einstürzende Neubauten in ‘Olive’, and the insanity of a shoegaze track with Hermann Nitsch sensibilities on ‘Mahogany’. Hell, closer ‘Maroon’ yokes together sheep and choruses that sound like they might be more at home in a Ligeti piece, and proceeds to lead the listener through 46 minutes of genre-transversing curiosity before subsiding to a single, flexing tone which ultimately leads to silence.
It would be foolish to suggest that all the music on here is dark – there’s a lot of humour through the album as well – but when listening I noted that some of these tracks would be great float-tank music if you wanted to have some encroaching fear added to your mineral salts. Darkness, particularly in the dark ambient space, is often overdone, but sometimes here there’s a palpable sense of horror that I can’t get enough of.
The delight in this collection of tracks is that while they are the work of multiple hands, they sound like they belong together. Nothing clashes unintentionally. There’s a sense of gentle bending of sounds to join the Stelzer’s sound world, a sure hand coaxing capstans and patch-cables into line. Invariably Falling Forward, Into The Thickets Of Closure offers a window into a world where collaboration works tirelessly towards a single goal: the birth of a sound that, while diverse in origin, is immediately and identifiably the product of a singular artist.