Terminal Sound System, “Constructing Towers”

Operating within and between the rather loose conventions that dominate electronic and rock music, Skye Klein continues to map out a musical style capable of putting equal emphasis on every genre it employs.

Klein’s latest musical venture showcases an unevenness that was less evident on Compressor, released last year on Extreme. On that album, Terminal Sound System sounded like a project dedicated to giving rhythm and timbre their time in the sun. Though many of the songs featured no strong melody, themes and hooks were still developed through the smart use of texture and atmosphere. I liked that album despite its flaws: Klein was clearly looking to restructure drum ‘n’ bass and employ its strengths in new environments. It was also unremittingly dark and brooding and filled to the brim with rumbling and exaggerated beats. That coherency explains why Constructing Towers comes as such a shock to me. Klein’s purpose isn’t nearly as clear on this album and his modus operandi is frustratingly scattered. Seemingly at odds with himself, Klein utilizes both familiar and idiosyncratic techniques to form a patchwork album that features camp, aggression, and trepidation in equal doses.

“In Your Planet” is a barnburner of an introduction. With an epic organ part, a flurry of brushed percussion, and a massive low-end, the song boils and recedes in a succession of tense and meditative moments. Texture is still Klein’s strong point, but melodies are more prominent on this record from the get go. Light pianos and bass pulses exchange melodic duties with reversed synthesizer effects and orchestral crescendos, all of which lend the album a strong immediacy. This immediacy continues throughout the record, but in wildly different ways. “Constructing Towers” features a muffled vocal performance and the kind of drum breaks you might remember from Luke Vibert’s various releases or from the odd Venetian Snares’ song. Not content to reproduce good drum ‘n’ bass, Klein inserts wah-wah pedals into “Year of the Pig” and tempers the whole thing with bright keyboards; the song is jumpy and unpredictable, but everything still feels tightly connected at this point. When “Alaska” comes on, I feel like the ground is pulled out from under my feet and the whole album is set adrift. Suddenly Angelo Badalamenti joins the band, rock ‘n’ roll guitars become part of Klein’s vocabulary, and the mood developed over the first three tracks is eschewed in favor of something completely different.

Just like Compressor, much of Constructing Towers is haphazard; the first three songs sound like they belong on an EP together, “Alaska” belongs in a world all its own, and everything afterwards feels like a coherent statement, but from a project quite different than Terminal Sound System. The acid-tinged electronica and jazz-like influences showcased on the second half of the album feel far more cinematic than the first half and demonstrate Klein’s ability to warp and bend familiar sounds and conventions. The second half of the record is also a far more relaxed affair than the first half thanks to the low, cool horns and vibraphones that dominate it. In trying to blend so many influences and ideas, Klein went a bit off the deep end and forgot where he was going once he started. He ends up in some interesting places and with beautiful results, but he does in a haphazard and confusing way. Constructing Towers is a dark, beautiful record with several moments of brilliance (the walking bass line on “Duchamp Falls” comes unexpectedly, but works perfectly), but it is uneven both conceptually and stylistically.

Available on Extreme Records
Samples at Brainwashed

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