Best known to electronic music fans as one-half of iconic band Skinny Puppy (who also just released Weapon, one of their best albums in years), cEvin Key, alias Kevin Crompton, has also maintained several unique side projects, the most notable of which being his long-running experimental outfit Download. Formed in 1994 by Key, Phil “Philth” Western and Skinny Puppy member Dwayne Goettel (who passed away shortly after the release of their debut EP), the band has seen input from a wide range of industrial music talent, including Genesis P. Orridge (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV), Mark Spybey (Dead Voices On Air) and frequent Skinny Puppy collaborator Ken “Hiwatt” Marshall. The core unit of Key and Western remains to this day, and their latest full-length album Lingam upholds their core of complex beat-driven electronica as the foundation for surreal and hypnotic soundscapes, constructed from a wide spectrum of digital and analog sources.
If you're going into this album expecting Skinny Puppy's aggression and intensity, you'll be surprised to find Lingam a more meditative project... though in its own way, it reflects much of the horror-influenced darkness that Key brought to Puppy's material for three decades (SP were the kings of horror movie sampling long before it over-saturated the industrial, metal and gothic genres). The album title and overall themes are certainly more introspective, taken directly from a key component of Hinduism: the Lingam is the “cosmic pillar” which represents infinity, and within these ten tracks I found the band exploring the limitless combinations available to the forward-thinking electronic musician. Drawing on past and present influences from the spheres of trance, ambient and early industrial, and scattering these colors through a kaleidoscope of samples, they assert themselves boldly in the opening/title track amid a swarm of fizzing vintage synth melodies and distant echoing ambient washes.
Heavier patterns come forth in the irresistibly danceable "AAARD," propelled by a beefy kick and hyperactive rhythm line; it's one of many strong club candidates collected here, along with the simple but effective "BLOTCH,” with its infectious bass sequence, and "YONI," which sports one of the album's catchiest leads and a sweeping, grand mix, with vocal samples scattered here and there. Darker overtones come into play in the spasming, hideously low bass line of "DUPPY," the dark and lurching "KUNDI" with its grinding, throbbing bass, ominous chants and whispers; the cybernetic insects that buzz and drone through "INAGE MAntra," which evolves into a nightmarish sonic environment; and echo feedback turns simple beats into alien forms in "SAW CRUST.” The goofy title "JirAFFE from the planet Sanders" hides a mellow, ethereal piece saturated in reverb and woven with melodic vocal samples, kicking in midway with one of the album's catchiest rhythms. The lo-fi glitches and snappy beats of "PiLLAR" form the setting for a warm, meditative melody, finally collapsing into industrial noise to bring the album to a chilling close.
The melodies, song structures and dynamics that Key and Western have laid down on Lingam are dramatic enough that it often feels like we're being set up for a vocalist; more than once I found myself expecting a sung verse to begin, only to hear a new shift in the melodic synth lines. I'm not considering that a negative by any stretch; I guess the power of Key's songwriting with Ogre on Weapon had me stuck in that mindset. Instead, these ten sublime grooves tell little micro-stories of their own, with all the dramatic arcs included; no lyrics are necessary to convey the moods and emotions within them.
Lingam drops today via Metropolis Records, and you can listen to the track “YONI” right here: