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Wasteland - Amen Fire

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Artist: Wasteland

Album: Amen Fire

Label: Transparent

Review date: Jan. 15, 2003

Mechanical Atmospheres

This collaboration between I-Sound and DJ Scud isn't easy to describe, as is often the case with recordings on the abstract side of things. Coming together after years of individual accomplishments in the areas of producing, performing, and DJing, they put together Wasteland from two sessions divided between New York and London.

This is best described as a claustrophobic record: downtempo beats, dark atmospheres, rhythms that sound like they're stretched, and sounds pulled apart like taffy. The music nicely alternates interludes of sparse murmuring sounds and stuttering static with collections of uncluttered beats. "Less Blue" blends minimalist, heavy beats with shimmering mechanical sounds, creating a noirish feeling of being closed in, surrounded. "Machinfest" is appropriately named; it functions like pumping pistons while static crawls across the speakers and curtains of electronic interference run rampant.

Some tracks are remarkably minimal. "Lent" is based on a slow, simple beat that's practically not there and sometimes in fact it actually isn't there while synthetic noises hiss and sizzle in and around. The track could be the soundtrack to a film of someone limping with painful slowness through the back alleys of lower Manhattan.

Mechanically-related adjectives come to mind very easily while listening to this album, with its ponderous beats and electronic audio manipulations. The rhythms seem to chug along with a machine-like purposefulness, such as "classic case," which mutters and clanks with a solid, slow rhythm amidst mysterious artificial sounds, until partway through bell-like sounds worm their way in during a quiet break. Then denser beats start up as the bells transform into clattering metallic tinkling.

"Lungfuls of Air," though, is atypical. It begins with a delicate melody that sounds only vaguely like guitar who knows if it really is over a slow snare beat. Shortly, the melody is nearly chased away by hissing, chittering sounds, almost like the machines are scaring away the guitar-based music.

In general Wasteland sticks with a fairly consistent modus operandi here. The rhythms are mostly kept very subdued, the tempos on the slow side with only a few exceptions. The beats tend to come and go, with stressed electronic sounds providing the textural component. Only rarely do melodic elements appear. It's an interesting album, but 45 minutes of this approach goes a long way. The beats and atmosphere seem suited for late-night listening, but the harshness of the additional sounds puts things on edge a bit more than many people might want in that context. I'm not entirely sure where this would fit into most people's listening schemes, but Amen Fire deserves a place somewhere.

By Mason Jones

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