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Blackest Ever Black, BLACKEST047
Abstract, Ambient, Experimental
Tarquin Manek – Tarquin Magnet
A unique synthesis of time-dilating folk-jazz romanticism, brittle chamber dub and plasmic post-techno electronics, it’s the Australian’s first full solo release on Blackest Ever Black, but by no means his first contribution to the label: as one half of Tarcar (with Carla dal Forno), he has given us the dysfunctional dreamsongs of Mince Glace and ‘Eija’; and as one third of F ingers (with dal Forno and Samuel Karmel) helped summon the baleful backyard apparitions of recent LP Hide Before Dinner; while his own ‘Not Missing You’ features on the BEB compilation I Can’t Give You The Life You Want. Manek has been busy elsewhere, too: he released Th Duo, an LP made under his LST alias, on Another Dark Age earlier this year.
Still, none of this recent activity prepares us for the disturbed and enchanted environments of Tarquin Magnet. Its raw materials are the result of improvisation and domestic field recording, of literally grabbing at whatever’s available – clarinet, keyboard, dictaphone, mobile phone – and throwing it into the crock. And then, of course, untold hours of hunched and red-eyed editing. For all its rough textures and strange juxtapositions, this is masterfully mixed and arranged music: to adepts, and really to anyone listening at high volume, its deep spatial dynamics and higher dub logic will be powerfully apparent.
13-minute opener ‘Sassafras Gesundheit’ exists at a slight remove from, or angle to, the nocturnal abstractions of the rest of the LP. Doused in daylight, it’s the sound of a mind unraveling, or winding itself tighter for no good reason at all. It’s a love song too, but wordless, uninhibited, and – like all the best love songs – ultimately frustrated. Its apparent forward motion, driven by Roma sonorities and a recurring, faux-naif synth arpeggio, is circular, tidal: cresting and falling, contracting and expanding, lapping at the shore of infinite contentment but doomed always to recede. Desperate to move forward, but tethered to the past, it opens up the present moment like a portal or a wound. Hope gives way to exasperation, then exhaustion, as deep blue clarinet, dissonant violin and cold rains of radiophonic shrapnel mock and console across a world of echo and delay. Comparisons are pointless, but we won’t let that stop us: think Edge of Illusion-era John Surman meets Karel Goeyvaerts’ minimalist phase in a Firehouse, delivered with the no-fidelity recklessness of the best Oz/NZ underground traditions.
From here on in, Manek’s private wilderness is denser and harder to navigate: first the spooling tunnel visions of ‘Fortunes Past’ (like a scene from Arden & Bond’s Anti-Clock) and strung-out junkyard gamelan of ‘Fortunes Begun’, then Side Two: a total break from the recognisable and quantifiable, as sounds become totally divorced from their sources, and the atmosphere congeals into one of…not dread exactly, but certainly isolation and estrangement – black humour, and a sense of wonder (or something like it), notwithstanding. ‘Perfect Scorn’ is a tour de force of crack’d kosmische, pitched somewhere between folk-tale and science fiction: through queer electro-magnetic ambience a distress signal emerges, leading us back to earth, and to the corridors and causeways of a city empty but for its corroded, obsolete machinery and a few alcoholics immune to apocalypse. The programmers are all dead, but no one told the computers, which try to wrench courtly melody out of violently curdling webspace, performing to empty chairs, to an audience that isn’t there. Imagine The Shadow Ring or Small Cruel Party trying to find common ground with Dettinger or Pole, or the sound of a million servers crashing and taking our memories with them. This is what the future will sound like.
Manek’s psycho-acoustic landscaping culminates in ‘Blackest Frypan’: a puzzle-box of insinuating, paranormal resonances, wrought out of plucked steel guitar strings, stifled screams and subaqueous bleeps. This truly progressive, THC-ushered marriage of wracked bedroom psychedelia, gloopy alien concrète and dubwise, third-eye-open sound design is a fitting finale to a record of singular and persuasive vision. By its end, Tarquin Magnet‘s central mysteries remain unsolved, but some lessons have been learned.