Chris Russell, eyes cast down
Void Music VM005
/ Kalindi Music KM003
Dec. 8, 2014
Around Christmas 2010, I approached Relaxed Machinery’s Chris Russell with the idea of undertaking something new for both of us: a full-on groove album. We agreed to try one piece first, and before we could even begin, we were “randomly” teamed up to do a piece for the Relaxed Machinery artists’ compilation reBOOT. That first piece, Particles and Waves, was so satisfying that a full album was clearly required. Our energy flowed right into the Memory Palace project.
I carved the grooves out of live drumming sessions, loops and samples. “Drums” included a metal handrail in a skyscraper stairwell, and an inflatable yoga ball. Samples were sourced from objects such as car keys, Go stones, a handful of thick branches and dry leaves. Chris then poured his mesmerizing, often industrial-tinged atmospheres over the grooves and mixed the results.
The five pieces trace a winding path, from the ritual opening of Primitive and Prime, through Touchstone Array‘s electron crackle and the mesmerizing, non-rhythmic interlude Afterimages, into the melting pot of Somewhere the Circle Stops, which alternates odd-meter electronic rhythms with live tribal drumming.
The album artwork is Dasi’s photographs of a Buddhist sand mandala, which was on display at Chicago’s Loyola University in spring 2012.
Me, upon receiving Memory Palace: “Excellent! A collaboration between two artists who do lovely, quiet stuff.” Me, after listening: “Wow! That was not what I expected!” Perhaps my expectation was skewed; both artists, Chris Russell and eyes cast down (aka Greg Moorcroft) do tend to work shades of darkness, hints of dissonance and touches of tribal into their individual work. But here, they ramp all that up into a pulse-driven, drum-loaded outing that still speaks most often in a restrained voice. Having called out another artist for adhering a bit closely to the Steve Roach model, I would note that bits of it show up here as well. The opener, “Primitive and Prime,” is familiar territory, pushed along on space-opening drum work from Moorcroft and wide, misty atmospheres from Russell. The influence is clear but the piece stands alone based on its deep groove and the deliciously hypnotic quality of the electronics. You get it again at the end of the disc with “Somewhere the Circle Stops,” which sounds much like a lost track from Roach’s Trance Spirits. Moorcroft takes the front here, weaving several drum lines into a complex and potent structure. Russell’s soundworlds here move as slow as incense smoke, soft washes that sometimes take on a growling, almost didgeridoo-like edge. Outside of that, while the influence still colors the proceedings, Russell and Moorcroft head off into their own zones. “Spatial Mnemonics” has an industrial clatter to it, all serving more of the kind of interlaced rhythms that are the centerpiece of the album.
It’s a little dark, and it works. “Touchstone Array” is a fast-paced piece with an up-front analog feel. Glitchy snips of sound tap out a rapid-fire rhythm over slow pads for a nice contrast. However, my only complaint on the whole album comes from this track. The lads play with some high-pitched sounds, one of which sounds — to me — like a kid’s party favor bring blown in one ear over and over. Just like that, I’m pulled out of the track. (It’s playing as I type this out and, honestly, I just want to punch it.) Luckily, that passes and I let myself focus on the cool electronic rhythm work. “Afterimages” quiets things down with an ambient flow lightly touched with (I believe) rain sounds, shakers, and the lightest touch of percussion on the whole album. There’s a very cool effect late in the track where it rises up just a little—a nice touch. On these five tracks, the artists allow themselves a wide time frame in which to craft each piece; the two shortest run about 11 minutes each. Within that frame, they explore and codify their chemistry and justify their initial decision to challenge themselves to do a beat-based album. Memory Palace is an excellent deep listen; Russell and Moorcroft both love their details, and they are plentiful here, so dig into them. An excellent collaboration between two good artists. Well worth listening to.
The origins for “Memory Palace” go back to Christmas 2010, when Greg Moorcroft (aka eyes cast down) approached Chris Russell with the idea of starting a groove-based collaboration. Greg would take care of the rhythmic side of things while Mr. Russell would be in charge of all additional textures, soundscapes and synthetic sounds. Both musicians focused on a full-album release after the first idea materialized smoothly in a track for the Relaxed Machinery sampler “reBOOT”.
The first half of the the 5-track/70+ minutes album is centered around electric groove patterns using mostly acoustic drum and percussion samples and the sounding of Greg’s much-favored wooden frogs alongside tasty synth textures and circular atmospheres, all creating quite an intense and more upfront sonic statement with a certain psychedelic edge. The third piece “Touchstone Array” (defined as electron crackle) reveals certain contemplativeness, but evolves eventually into a weird and abstract/experimental effort led by acoustic samples set to a racing tempo with lots of bleeps and sound modifications running alongside.
Fortunately, gentle curling and shifting atmospherics make up the core of the two remaining tracks, with assorted (occasional tribal) rhythmic elements pushed further back in the spacious, transparent sound design on “Afterimages”. The fast but not upfront table-percussion on the final 22-minute piece (which alternates odd-meter electronic rhythms with live tribal drumming) reminds slightly of the Roach-collabs with Mr. Fayman.
The result on “Memory Palace” comes down to quite peculiar ambient, expecting the listener to think out of the box quite a bit.