What’s square and white and blue all over? The extremely misleading cover of Maar’s Absolute Delay, an all-consuming pitch-black drone/ambient record from Michael Vallera and Joseph Clayton Mills.
On their sophomore tape, the Chicago-based duo offers up six edgy, expansive, and evocative minimalist compositions that totally ignore the traditional constructs of time. And yet, there are beats—though it’s difficult to really call them beats because they just seem so accidental—that accompany the scrapes, feedback, static, corrupted signals, and otherwise strange textures and sounds that populate this strange, intimate galaxy.
The title track, with its menacing thuds and clanging bells, serves as an unkind introduction to the album before the 13-minute “Rime” takes over. A slow-moving flood of oppressive ambience from start to finish, “Rime” is the album’s most desolate and void-like track.
Only one-third of the way in, and this ominous adventure is off to a great start. But, truth be told, the rest of Absolute Delay is actually the best of Absolute Delay.
A glacial, unsettling tour of some truly dark territory, “Contour” (where the album kicks its cinematic magic into high gear), “The Hour Angles,” “Walled Plain” and “Dives” work together and against each other as a string of vignettes that seem to tell a loose, wordless story, sort of like a vivid, discombobulated dream. It just goes to show you that music of this nature is very much like a Rorschach test: abstract, slightly perplexing, and totally open to interpretation.
An escalating, off-kilter tribal beat acts as the spine of “The Hour Angles.” However, it has some percussive competition: a steady metallic clang echoes in the distance. The clashing of these two pseudo-beats conjures the image of an invisible killer warming up for a routine murder somewhere deep in the woods. It really gets the blood pumping, too. And to add authenticity to the scene, the high-pitched crinkling that eventually eases itself into the track resembles the familiar hot-summer-night sounds of trickling water and sleepless insects.
Maar’s dub influences warp and thicken “Walled Plain.” Perhaps taking place in the very same creepy forest as “The Hour Angles,” “Walled Plain” sounds kind of like a brief, shamanistic ritual where pain is a key ingredient. There might be a clay pipe in here somewhere, but there’s definitely some good old-fashioned ethereal chanting. While these vocals provide the only source of light on Absolute Delay, they don’t last long: the cold-sweat intensity of everything else that surrounds them simply smothers them out. (See also: “Spurned” by Severed Heads.)
We’re not out of the woods yet. “Dives” closes out Absolute Delay on a somber note with another eerie, repetitious centerpiece: the sound of someone digging a hole—and that someone is clearly the killer from “The Hour Angles.” It’s a remorseful rhythm, though, almost as if the killer knows he or she is trapped in this torturous cycle of murder. Underneath it all, a ghostly organ sways between the same two chords, giving off a morbidly sweet vibe. However, there’s hardly anything comforting about it.
In fact, the impenetrable post-midnight ambience of Absolute Delay will make you rethink your silly little claim about not being afraid of the dark. The irony is that turning the lights on would only ruin the experience of this exquisite black abyss.
Released: July 22, 2016
Label: Umor Rex