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Howard Stelzer - Bond Inlets

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Artist: Howard Stelzer

Album: Bond Inlets

Label: Intransitive

Review date: Apr. 17, 2008

Bostonian cassette wrangler Howard Stelzer has been manipulating magnetic tape for more than a decade now, but, given his penchant for collaboration, solo albums bearing Stelzer's name aren't bountiful. Stone Blind, Stelzer's solo debut, was issued by the artist's own Intransitive Records in 1998, and it took 10 years for another Howard Stelzer proper album to finally arrive. In the interim, of course, Stelzer has made a smattering of CD-Rs and cassettes, but, the chance to hear Stelzer solo, at least in the comfort of your own home, remains a relative rarity.

Some artists take pride in their ability to transform familiar sound sources and reconfigure them for use in novel settings, but Stelzer's not part of that camp. Stelzer's always remained mum on the subject of his tapes' contents, maintaining that the final collaged product is what matters, not the original sounds from which it is made. Bond Inlets evidences his point, with an atmospheric brew that gives little hint as to its base ingredients. At the start of the disc, there seems to be a chorus of plaintive vocals somewhere in the mix, but there's little else in the way of identifiable sound on the rest of Bond Inlets. Stelzer builds a murky ambiance out of the anonymous, making any attempts at "I spy" akin to tracking the trajectory of a mosquito through a blanket of the famed London fog.

Stelzer isn't beyond grinding things to a halt, but the two untitled tracks that make up Bonds Inlets are largely built of sustained sound, with subtle shifts in tone and character. Thick shrouds of static mask underbellies of more active sound as layers are added and peeled away, with Stelzer's manipulation of tape creating distorted wrinkles that come to the foreground in infrequent bunches, breaking through the cloud cover, at times only barely, to romp above the dense coat of grit and groan. Minuscule blips and beeps call out like distant lights on a hazy evening, easily missed in the miasmatic currents of sound.

For all the gloomy imagery that Bond Inlets produces in the mind, it's not an overly somber affair. The sound is dark in hue, but Stelzer's most sinister storms are offset by segments of an almost relaxing (though still bleak) sonic drift. The album isn't one of extremes, but the disc's moderation plays well into Stelzer's enveloping environments, with many of Bond Inlets' highlights coming when he lets the music breathe, filling the ears like the green poison gas of an old TV villain.

By Adam Strohm

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