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AT: Totsouko & Illy

Totsouko and Illy show on this LP just how damning the sounds in a recording studio can be. With ghostly apparitions and half-mesmerised psychedelics on one side, and a calm swaying ambience on the other, there’s not a moment on it that could be described as straightforward by any means. As if watching the world fly by in an altered state of mind (yes drugs, I’m looking at you), it’s an interesting, if daunting, look at the world through electronica.

Where is this place? is a good example. Combining fairground whistle-like screams with inane chatter and pop-vocal loops, all of which are mixed up in a swarm of their own reverb, it’s a hellish environment to say the least; a bad trip without any of the soothing tones that psychedelia usually employs. The drums make it feel like an Indian raga, as if on some spiritual journey, but upstairs probably isn’t the destination.

Dispossessed very accurately portrays the sensation of intense fear or adrenaline. The sounds begin muffled and unclear as if heard from the other side of a glass wall. The drums slowly clearing into the picture is the audible equivalent of a dolly zoom, that chilly feeling when the camera focuses in on one thing, all the peripherals going out of focus as your concentration is given pinpoint precision. A wish-wash of white noise rising climactically and a dirge-like beat in the timpani keeps it intense, feeling like the blood’s rushing in your ears as your heart thumps heavier and heavier.

The opening track, Like the rivers wash away the pain of the soul, isn’t as direct as this. You’d almost be forgiven for assuming it was just some calming ambience. But the crackle of vinyl and the ominous sustained bass drone (‘the longer the note, the more dread‘) gives some ancient mysticism to its name. The sound effects on top are calm and non-intruding, but the drone remains. At times you might even forget it’s there as the ambient waves try and wash it away (‘washing away the pain of the soul?’), but it never goes, always nestled down there beneath the layers, gnawing away at what’s on top.

If these existentialist musings are getting you down, Totsouko & Illy seem to have realised it too. The last two tracks are much more optimistic, with gamelan instruments gently chiming away in Evening in Pokhara. It’s pretty clear that they care just as much for a sound as they do its after-effects. Each lasting vibration and resonance is cared for and nurtured, becoming half of the intended musical effect. This lucid approach is perhaps how they make it so otherworldly in places, as if we’re detached from the world even as we listen to it pass by.

Do you know that song? is just the ride home. It sounds like things are winding down now as the instruments slow and seemingly run out of things to say. There’s less of a flow with how the sounds interact, with a childish ‘one-two, one-two’ dialogue between two synths going on. The sound keeps getting filtered with different levels of reverb and clarity, but the drugs seem to be wearing off by now.

I’d probably be being over-dramatic to claim this LP is a harrowing experience, but I severely doubt it isn’t what they were going for in certain places. It uses the best features of ambient music to give its ideas space to move freely, but it avoids actually relaxing you or leaving you sure of your surroundings (especially in the first half). Whilst at times hellish and other times seemingly at peace, you gotta give it to them; they somehow combine both extremes quite well.

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