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SND / NHK - Split EP

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Artist: SND / NHK

Album: Split EP

Label: Pan

Review date: Aug. 2, 2012

You don’t have to know Japan’s NHK to know that you’re in for a challenging listen with this limited edition EP. The three letters of the record label putting this out should be signal enough, but in case that fails out, the three letters before the slash should tip you off: SND’s Mark Fell and Mat Steel have been taking unnecessarily difficult detours into the extremes of self-imposed minimalism for well nigh a decade and a half. The Sheffield duo’s most recent efforts — the obnoxiously rare, 93-copy “Vandyk-k Integ Paradise” 12” two years ago was the last — spent time parsing down melodies and grooves to a fine point of cold computerization, grooves without heart almost beyond recognition (and certainly beyond dancing). This split with NHK’s Kuhei Matsunaga and Toshio Munehiro is an appropriate combination; both the latter group and the label also traffic in the more abrasively avant realms of IDM.

Beyond the typically curious artwork intrinsic to the Pan aesthetic, what you hear is what you get. There’s no grand theme or social undercurrent behind what they’re doing; rather, SND is furthering an eremitic, self-contained history on the 16-minute A-side, “15/16.” It’s an exhausting rhythmic workout sure to find some fresh fans in the footwork community, as well as rekindle the flame in old IDM lovers with its familiar handclap beat tantalizingly close to a 4/4 lock coupled with a truncated microtonal melody repeated so often it starts to resemble voice box speech recognition. Repeat listens don’t really reward, but that’s the risk you take with SND — they make it hard and that’s the point. Working through these patterns, utilizing barebones digital percussion, you’re getting out of it only what they offered. “15/16” feels overwhelmed by process, but if you can handle that, you’re already home. It’s a pretty brilliant track.

The men of NHK hedge their bets on the b-side with four tracks instead of loading up on just one. The results vary: While “Fu2” smartly sets the mood like a scratched CD on an endless buffer, “111230_2ndhalf” takes a strong influence from drum n’ bass or industrial. It stomps along but never really goes anywhere, occasionally pausing to click-click-click before finding the beat again. It feels out of place even with the Konono N°1-esque “Hydra” that follows, a much more intriguing song with an equally grating gallop. Unlike “111230_2ndhalf,” “Hydra” surprises by thriving on near-psychedelic qualities in its transformation from a beat with the most memorable melody on the EP to a solitary 4-track cassette thud. “Stomp_1” concludes with the same vibe as “Fu2,” stepping back from the pounding beats of “111230_2ndhalf” and “Hydra” to play with clicks and cuts before ending in a swirl of fuzz and reversed drum hits.

Thus, while SND take reduction on a structural level by clipping and rearranging components, NHK are more literal in the elimination of instruments and sounds. At just over half an hour, this split will only be a chore for those who have no idea what they’re in for. But if you’re at all familiar with SND or you respect the work of guys who have mingled with Merzbow and Mika Vainio, this will be a valuable addition to the shelf.

By Patrick Masterson

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