In our no-stone-left-unturned Internet age of music, micro-genres seem to pop up monthly, recontextualizing obscure and sometimes forgotten — for better or worse — past music. Yet another one from the last few years with a somewhat tenuous identity is neo-kosmische, named as such for its appropriation and referencing of 35-year-old Teutonic ambient. I say tenuous because no one really knows what to call records by Emeralds, Oneohtrix Point Never, and now Matthew Mullane’s Fabric project — myself included. A Sort Of Radiance is the first release on Spectrum Spools, a new offshoot of Editions Mego (curated by Emerald’s John Elliott), specializing in this unique brand of synth music.
For Chicago multi-instrumentalist Mullane, it’s also his first proper release — a short one at that, running only 33 minutes. And like those older kosmische records, the emphasis is on the “voyage” during long, atmospheric synth songs that stretch out (it’s not clear whether or not he uses period modular/poly synths or software), sculpted with filters and envelopes, accented by hypnotic arpeggiation.
The songs are hardly linear, either, and tend to blossom in all directions, with an at times overwhelming number of synthesizer treatments under the same roof; on “Camera,” up to five different synth lines spiral and swirl around each other like smoke trails. Thankfully, Mullane’s spatial sense is adept, allowing the mix just enough breathing room, and the ever-changing nature of these songs reveal new and interesting aspects, on each listen. In turn, space (and perhaps to a greater extent, anxiety) translates into thematic concern here, with tracks like “Leaving The House,” “High Ceilings” and “Containers” suggesting crippling phobias, even OCD. This uneasiness plays into the album’s undeniably dark tone, especially on the send-off “Soft Disconnect” — perfect music for dystopian noir sci-fi. Í
Per the “ambient” descriptor, going in, know that you won’t find over-driven shoe-gaze grit like some certain Kranky titles of late, or jarring sonics like a THX sound test — it’s all quiet storm, in line with his peers and influences. Mullane is obviously not attempting to redefine anything; rather, this is the sort of record that attempts to expand on ideas and sounds that have essentially already been perfected. Still, the music comes across as a very personal effort, with the utmost focus on craft, while the sarcastic album title indicates just how hard it is to describe — even for Mullane.