‘Exercises in Beauty’ could have been a boastful title from duo 6 & 8 if the album were not exactly that, albeit with a substantial side order of troubling weirdness and disturbing interventions. Jessica Peace and Rory McCormick have created an album that manages to be at once heavy and light as a feather.
The sounds within are mainly comprised of whispering, humming electronics from the same school as Aphex Twin’s ‘Selected Ambient Works’; and treated guitars occasionally feature, more so as the album progresses. As with volume 2 of the ‘SAW’ albums, the ambient elements here are far from being new age wallpaper or an evocation of vintage sci-fi films, many of the tracks are soaked in an oddly hard to place sense of unease; including the sudden clatter of a phone ringing or Peace counting over a rising and falling drone, like a recording of a Number Station or a surgical patient awaiting the effects of an anaesthetic. Every track begins with the announcement of its title and short detailed descriptions of a human body, the occasional addition of injuries making them sound like an autopsy report; or perhaps a hugely blown up image of a bruised navel or lacerated armpit, observed by a J.G Ballard protagonist sitting, as they often are, in a long-abandoned missile silo.
The beauty of the music is undeniable; ‘Step 4’ in particular is stunning. Beginning with the words “Arc of skin covering the corner of the eyes, curving into the flesh above the eyelids”, the track is then buried in shimmering curtains of jangling chimes, echoing sighs, and chopped glitchy guitar notes. The rest of the pieces range from cold skeletal voids and spooky scrabbling activity to lush dream-like audio hallucinations, somewhat like Fennesz at times but without that artist’s uniformity of tone.
This is one of the most absorbing electronic works I have listened to this year. The fact that it seems to be firmly under the radar just adds to the album’s mysterious allure. Have I really heard it? Does it exist?
Hopefully it does, as that would suggest there might be a follow-up.