April 10, 2006

Belong "October Language"

Belong is a collaborative effort between New Orleans natives Turk Dietrich and Michael Jones, who run guitars and synthesizers through various forms of DSP (digital signal processing) to produce crescendos of drone that ebb and flow like ocean waves, much like Fennesz, Tim Hecker and Oren Ambarchi before them. Their promising debut October Language is the first release I’ve heard from a NOLA group since the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina last August. What’s even sadder about this is that if the album hadn’t been completed a year before the hurricane, we might not have gotten a chance to hear it now. Because of such, it feels tactless to use the ocean as a metaphor for Belong’s approach to composition, but I believe that no other metaphor can truly do it justice.

On opening track “I Never Lose. Never Really,” Dietrich and Jones play a somber six-chord progression. A low-pass filter strips their guitars of all semblance of treble. The filter is removed to reveal layers of hiss, distortion and overtones that pile on top of each other with a fugue-like stateliness. Around the three-minute mark, Dietrich and Jones start leaning on a single chord to produce an ominous drone. The distortion is then removed, leaving ghostly micro-edits to slowly recede into silence. “Red Velvet or Nothing” is pure drone, with guitars that are manipulated to have the timbre of organs and the texture of hissing sprinklers. Listening to it on headphones is guaranteed to make your ears feel ticklish. On October Language’s title track, the guitars swoop and sigh like a My Bloody Valentine record at half-speed. “I’m Too Sleepy…Shall We Swim?” lays off on the oceanic fuzz, opting instead to flirt with silence and negative space. Subwoofer-shredding bass fades in and out of the mix, while intermittently flickering keyboards imitate the tape decay of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops. On these four songs, which constitute the album’s first half, Belong coax bewildering sounds out of their instruments just as well as their influences.

Unfortunately, October Language’s second half finds Belong repeating the same tricks they exhausted on the first half. If the album was split into two EPs, I would be able to recommend them equally, for each song holds up well on its own. When sequenced together as a 45-minute album, though, they quickly blur into each other. Granted, because of the stylistic similarity of the songs, the album serves as perfect background music for drifting into sleep. When I’m fully awake and giving October Language my full attention, though, it becomes a tough slog. Nonetheless, Dietrich and Jones do what they do very well. With a bit more variety, their next album should be amazing.

Label Website: www.carparkrecords.com

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