Demdike Stare's spooky sound arrived at a moment in which there was an upswing in the dark stuff across the whole spectrum of electronic music. Their early series of releases on Modern Love was a prismatic refraction of the possibilities of the hauntological, found-sound realm. Their debut album Symbiosis was a ghostly walk through dark English woods of fog and drone, Forest of Evil saw them incorporate throbbing dub, Liberation Through Hearing ambient techno and other rhythmic experiments and things finished up with Voices of Dust, a release laced with the most pervasive of ethnic Orientalist terror this side of Shackleton. The latter three were packaged neatly into the 3xCD Tryptych, an incredibly impressive statement of purpose that the duo follow up here with a double album.
Elemental is a compilation of four EPs released over the past few months—Crysanthemum, Violetta, Rose and Iris—but it feels haphazard in comparison to the impeccable pacing they've shown previously: there's little thematic continuity across these four EPs, and there's just as little cohesion with Elemental, which feels like they've thrown everything at the wall and let the splattered remnants drip down and form whatever patterns they please.
That's not to say the music has gone down in quality all that much: while Demdike fans will have heard a lot of this stuff by now, Sean Canty and Miles Whittaker are still better than just about anybody else in the way that they thread found sound, field recordings, library music and generated sounds and beats. Elemental hearkens back to the dronier Symbiosis with tracks like "All This Is Ours (Sunrise)" and the fascinating "Dasein," which sounds like the aural approximation of asphyxiation. But many of the tracks feel like they're running (or, rather, rumbling) in place, failing to do anything we haven't heard before or really anything all that interesting in the first place.
When they're on, though, boy are they on. The Tryptych mostly had them moulding rhythms in vaguely familiar, Modern Love-friendly dub techno shapes, but here they abandon that approach for something that sounds far less conventional. On "Mnemosyne" they tackle something close to dubstep, with its nuclear fallout snares rubbing up against a cavalcade of instruments of unknown origin, while "Violetta" sounds like a room full of broken antique instruments coming back to life. They're more threatening than ever too: "Unction" sounds like the demented hissing of Satanic creatures, and "Erosion of Mediocrity" is basically the sound of the Four Horsemen marching towards the Apocalypse, set aflame by hot blasts of anxious strings and bits of bass coated in toxic primordial muck.
Elemental saves the best for last, however, with two cuts of squiggly techno that rival the latest output from Sandwell District. Bizarre percussive elements pulsate and oscillate in unmappable patterns. It's one of the very first times that Demdike Stare has actually sounded in dialogue with other entities rather than lost inside their own Ouija board, but it's not a bad look for them: these moments of compatibility feel completely rejuvenated compared to the brief stale bites of similarity we get elsewhere on Elemental.
For all the complaints, Elemental is still one hell of a package, and if you're new to Demdike Stare, it's a suitable entry point. Elemental is just the first time that Demdike Stare have sounded like they're trying to be scary rather than creating tension through unfamiliarity and feral weirdness. That's to be expected for a duo that has released six CDs over three years. Familiarity breeds contempt, as the say. But even at its least inspiring, Elemental shows how unparalleled Canty and Whittaker are at this stuff, a duo following their vision to wherever it takes them.
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Tracklist: Demdike Stare - ElementalCD1
01. New Use For Old Circuits
02. Mephisto's Lament
03. Kommunion (Alternate Version)
04. Unction (Alternate Version)
07. In The Wake Of Chronos (Alternate Version)
08. 10th Floor Stairwell
01. All This Is Ours (Sunrise)
02. Erosion Of Mediocrity
04. Falling Off The Edge (Alternate Version)
07. We Have Already Died
08. Ishmael's Intent
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