Ernest Gibson - Island Records

Copenhagen-based label Skrot Up recently sent me a batch of their latest cassettes that's completely blowing my mind, but before I can jump into those (or their killing German Army comp LP from last year), I have to highlight their brilliant "Island Records" LP from California-based composer Ernest Gibson. This album dropped late last year, and it's a rewarding listen with some of the best dark cinematic soundscapes I've heard in a long time.

Gibson is half of Net Shaker, and his solo debut has some sonic similarities with that project: almost every sound you hear is maxed out. Voices and guitars are obscured by copious reverbs with overdriven signals punched into the recording console, speaker cabinets are pushed into and slightly beyond their limits, and mixes feel like they've been left out in the sun for a faded finish. But "Island Records" follows a unique sonic path, less vocal oriented and aiming toward a unique blend of vintage exotica influences like Les Baxter and Martin Denny with the anxious, unsettling tensions of early industrial music.

As welcoming as it is menacing, this is a hard record to describe emotionally. The reverb-drenched guitars and flabby kick drum vibes of opening track "When You Get There" open a secret door to a crime noir-meets tiki bar kind of island universe, where you can't help dancing with the natives even though you can be certain they're just waiting for you to crash so they can lift your wallet. Like many of the pieces on "Island Records," this feels strongly like a film cue: it's visually evocative, and it simply creates and sustains a "scene" rather than developing through different formal structures. German Army fans should totally check this album out, too: Gibson and the GeAr crew are certainly kindred spirits, and some tracks like "All of Us Together" employ similar kinds of sounds and dark atmospheres.

This is a dream album if you're into guitar and bass tones that seem to come from a timeless Lynchian kind of space. Almost every piece is anchored by dirty, sweaty bass with a lot of midrange attenuation, sometimes feeling a little flabby and downtuned like "When We Switch" or "Loosa Lake," and sometimes pulled back in the mix to let the guitars and insectoid synths take the wheel, like the motorik-inspired momentum of "Groupwork." Guitars come in fifty flavors of overdrive, and the reverbs they're usually forced through bring out the more metallic overtones the instrument is capable of. While synths play a significant role here, to my ears they end up weaving around the substantial footprints of guitar and bass riffs, blending into the muggy reverb atmospheres left by decaying fragments of guitar.

Other than the more obvious rhythmic nods, exotica inspirations come though most clearly on some of the shorter pieces, like the drowned tribal vibes of "Ocean Section," or the singular orchestral swell that comprises "In a Daylight Loop." Other sections of this music have an almost modern-classical approach to arranging, dense clusters of sound coalescing into something approaching Ligetian soundmass within the mixes of "When I Translate" or "Moon Paean." And I'd be remiss to ignore the post-punk and new/no-wave influences percolating in this music, especially on the tunes where vocals rise closer to the surface. "Everywhere You Roam," for example, lurches through a humid landscape close to early Birthday Party, a creepy space lit by garbage can bonfires. And "Groupwork," as mentioned above, keeps up the dirty, raw postpunk vibe but with a kind of assertive rhythm that almost evokes Kraftwerk lost in a jungle.

This LP also features some of the most stylistically thoughtful artwork/packaging I've seen in a while. The album cover and images on the printed inner sleeve depicted isolated island scenes, and the oversaturated-then-faded treatment of the cover perfectly matches the music. There's a postcard of a tropical scene just like you'd pick up to send back to your cousins--wish you were here, dear reader! And the back cover has the kind of layout you might expect to find on a jazz or exotica album from the 50s, simple black and white with a fantastic hype-essay in three columns. But you don't have to hope for this one to turn up in some antique booth bin to begin immersing yourself in the sultry retrofuture: you can still get a pristine copy of your own at Skrot Up.

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