As Bee Mask, Philadelphia's Chris Madak has, like many of his contemporaries, crept from small-run cassette and CDR releases to fully-fledged album statements. As he's done so his output has accordingly slowed. Recent efforts like October's Vaporware/Scanops (his only other release of the year; in 2007, by contrast, he had twelve releases) suggest he is taking more time to sculpt his work.
Madak's approach is difficult to pin down. While he frequently composes long-form explorations in excess of fifteen minutes, he also breaks his pieces into movements short enough to have already released a greatest hits-style compilation, last year's Elegy for Beach Friday. This tension between slow-burning builds and sudden fissures is magnified on When We Were Eating Unripe Pears, a short album of terse, disparate tracks that nevertheless flows as a whole. The record starts as granular squeaks and chirps flit above a molten synthesizer drone, gradually dissolving into it until they resemble bubbling water. As the drone morphs into a sluggish thudding pulse, Manak deploys an assortment of sounds—chief among them a wafer-thin, super-fast arpeggio and clanging tones—that give the feel of a mechanized gamelan session.
This is all essentially a setup for "The Story of Keys and Locks," the album's monolithic centerpiece. It announces its intentions early on, as glistening hymnal atmospherics and languorous pulses inspire bated breath. Sure enough, a muscular arpeggio emerges and the track soars to an elegantly blackened apex before it all evaporates into a fine mist of jangling blips. "Pink Drinq," where Manak conjures the sound of chemicals bubbling in beakers and pairs it with a volatile, tubular synth that recalls the powerful central line of Byetone's "Black Peace," from last year's Symeta album.
Just as the record's introductory tracks announced its visceral midsection, so too do the final ones feel like a recovery. "Fried Niteshade" has some of the tension of its predecessors, particularly in its sporadic bursts into chaos, but its main focus is a lightheaded, perception-shifting drone. "Unripe Pears" coasts smoothly downwards like it's soundtracking a space docking sequence, while the church-like reverb on "Rain in Coffee" finishes proceedings on a note of drowsy euphoria. Given the record's 30 minute runtime, it's impressive how smoothly Manak interlaces such teeming shards of sound, placing them in distinct movements of build, peak and release.
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