The KRONOS9 vs MONT CARMEL debut album PHREAKER is everything that longtime fans may have been expecting. It is simultaneously introspective, reverent and a heartfelt “fuck you” to the current state of popular music. Mission accomplished – PHREAKER doesn’t sound like anything wafting through the popular and social media today and only lightly reminds me of great things that I have heard in the past from Brian Eno, Richard James, Rupert Parkes and John Cage.
The work on PHREAKER is well conceived, organized and above all constitutes a true “album” rather than the collection of singles we have grown accustomed to hearing. Listening to an album I came to find is a bit like getting back on a bicycle after years of sitting on the couch. This is in no small part to smart decisions in concept, purpose, arrangement and format tenacity on the part of KRONOS9 and MONT CARMEL.
PHREAKER is conceived as a “conceptual soundtrack” for KRONOS9’s debut collection of experimental poetry CODE POET. The tracks contained in the album were simultaneously composed while writing the book. PHREAKER borrows the name from a hacker sub-culture focused on circumventing the now largely defunct analog telephone networks for to their own ends. In retrospect, these “ends” were sometimes innocently sinister (think conduits for pirated software or data pre-dark web) or exuberant side effects of youth (think using access to international telephone networks to deliver ‘transcontinental prank phone calls’). The same spectrum of “ends” are also apparent in this album.
Like true phreakers, KRONOS9 and MONT CARMEL dig deep into the available studio equipment, pop culture and other components to emerge with 11 solid tracks of ambient ill-hop. They also takes cues from CODE POET’s arrangement of the writing into silos denominated in terms of DNA base pair building blocks. In PHREAKER however, biological nomenclature is set aside for history as an arrangement method. The album begins in a “clock-less now-ever” and lurches through various points in time from prehistory, to the 1940s and into a far-flung future.
The album opens with the eerily atmospheric live mouth, a brief 2-minute soundscape romp that begins with vague synths and sounds of the beach at sunrise. Within seconds however a beat emerges as if conjuring from all of this potential nothingness. This gelatinous near arrhythmic track is used as a launch pad into the broader album. The tracks bob and weave from that point forward is sonic texture and theme mimicking the book CODE POET expertly. KRONOS9 seasons the brew with pinches here and there of what he refers to as “free-range samples” prevents the soundscape from descending into a self-absorbed mess.
Herein lies the cleverness of This approach to musical construction. KRONOS9 and MONT CARMEL demonstrate in PHREAKER an ability to ride the razor’s edge between chaos and formula, while navigating the fault lines between noise and melody. The track tent vs stacks track illustrates this point perfectly. Beats flow in and an out, spectral voices cascade over the dark soundstage all without the usual discernible metronome keeping time or order. The entire track is simply suspended through sheer will power.
Part of the art plan was also the format itself, vinyl. As the artists put it, “We just wanted to slow down time for the listener and put them in a purely experiential space with no distractions.” Mission accomplished there. Choosing to exclusively release the music in vinyl form does ‘coerce’ the listener to simply sit down, drop the needle and absorb the album in a way that is impossible with streaming or downloaded music. PHREAKER simply exists on its own, no clicking to the next track or distractions like “… oh, this reminds me of a Photek track, let me find it in my digital music library.” Those little internal remixes are experienced but become less likely to be acted upon. You will still get the errant idea, the digital version of a Tourette's syndrome’s nervous tick that we’ve all developed but it is tempered when listening to PHREAKER in its native habitat – the vinyl record. PHREAKER is an antidote to our poisoned hoard/shuffle/skip consumer lifestyle.
Time is slowed significantly and rewound with the hypnotic Voodoo-esque track cookie mount. I couldn’t help but fall into the ever-slightest head bobbing trance listening to the ritualistic chants. If cookie mount was an uplifting moment, then orgasm packets is a horrific lurch back into the darkest depths of Nazi Germany. This beautifully composed glitch track follows in musical form, the arc of the Wiemar Republic’s descent into the genocidal mania, cult of personality and death masquerading as salvation that was Nazi Germany. At the end of the track all of the lofty musicality simply crumbles leaving nothing but the monophonic rantings of Adolf Hitler.
If these track hurl us millenniums and decades into the past therapy app featuring the singer Chez Mille, brings us back into the immediacy of right now. Chez Mille’s redelivery in spoken word style of a lecture on bio-hacking made me put down CODE POET and listen closely. The music drapes behind her voice like a coming attractions trailer for the most profound high-brow horror film ever produced.
The overarching reality of PHREAKER is that despite pulling individual tracks for comment in this review, it is impossible to fully expose its clever construction without commenting on the whole album. Another overarching fact is that each side of the LP is a well constructed, cohesive composition ready-made for auto-return turntables and moderately lazy home DJs. However, taking the time to lift, flip and push start on your turntable will deliver a solid half hour of shelter from the storm of tweets, alerts, follower requests, bad news on the television, etc. Couple with this a good beverage, smoke or the suggested simultaneous reading of CODE POET, you will emerge energized.
The above are reflect the opinion of the writer ENZO23.
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