Demdike Stare: Elemental (Modern Love)
It’s telling that this whopping double-album from leftfield ambient duo Demdike Stare has been out nearly a year before I’ve taken to writing about it. It’s a grower, for sure… it took me a few months just to really digest the full contents of the release, and much longer to wrap my head around the ambitious sprawl of it all. The very first Demdike Stare releases I heard were haunting, but straightforward; they seemed to really hit hard on the “dub” in “dubstep” (without much of the “step”) and revel in thick atmospheres that enveloped their heady beats. However, they’ve moved away from that somewhat obvious combination of sounds, and with an album as long as Elemental, they are free to wander through a variety of sounds, timbres, textures and moods. What I always found charming about Demdike Stare is that their earliest 12"s seemed to start circulating right around the same time hipster rags like Pitchfork were proudly touting their own new genre creation du jour, “witch house.” I always found the name both vaguely appropriate and also incredibly stupid for the artists that got tagged. Demdike Stare is perhaps one of the most appropriate acts to earn the name, even if their music often betrays the convenience of the label; their namesake is Elisabeth Southerns (a.k.a. Demdike) who was a prominent witch executed in the 17th century. Press release fodder aside, there’s nearly two full hours of music to take in over the course of Elemental. It isn’t massive as their previous outing Triptych, and this is to its advantage in my opinion. There’s a healthy blend of regular and irregular rhythms, ambient passages, confrontational sounds and wayward atmospheres to keep things interesting from start to finish. Even on a track like “Kommunion (Alternate)” they manage to work in movements, with a highly ambient opening that gives way to a plodding, almost industrial segment of beats and prepared piano sounds. The first few tracks are dark and dense, so much so that the lively intro to “Mnemosyne” and its following dubstep halfbeat are almost startling. The menagerie of sounds it evolves into are closer to M.I.A.’s Kala seen through a dark lens, though. Even when the music picks up more of a pulse (“Metamorphosis” has a nice underwater throb to it), it’s quite dark… there is a vaguely sinister quality to this music from almost any angle. Take “Violetta” for example as a track that’s just off-kilter enough to be surprising, but almost menacing in its racket. The radiance of “All That Is Ours (Sunrise)” that kicks off the second disc of Elemental starts off like a murmur, but by the time its zenith reveals itself, it’s a full on wall of noise. A similar crescendo occurs in “Dasein,” a shimmering wave of noise as it ends. The second half has a bit more of a groove at times, like the refreshingly reliable looping of “We Have Already Died” or the techno tinges of closer “Ishmael’s Intent,” but overall from start to finish Demdike Stare are exploring such a strange, dark variety of sounds that shift shape and constantly evolve that it’s hard to not be impressed, if not overwhelmed. Their various influences — dub, non-western music, industrial clatter, IDM, and more — play out in consistently engaging ways, highly recommended for those not afraid of the dark side of electronic music and interested in being challenged.