If all you know are tunes like "Reminissin," then you might not realize that Nottingham's Kamal Joory has actually been one of the most quietly experimental artists in the UK underground for well over a decade. He knows his way around a pop tune. He also knows his way around a banger, or a shuddering mass of malfunction and distortion. The latter refers to "Black Screen," a rather vexing tune made under his Hem alias. Inspired by a dying phone, Joory told me he imagined "disjointed streams of data fleeing into the void as the device expired." He's since expanded "Black Screen" into an album, a fully-mixed headfuck that zig-zags between dancier Geiom material and more abstract Hem tracks. Inspired by the unreliability of his own "ancient" studio technology—in actuality a dizzying array of devices—Black Screen is a bumpy ride through current trends in UK dance music and beyond, making its profoundly strange mark at every step along the way.
Black Screen begins with the precarious surfaces of Hem's "1 Button," where the bass growls like a hungry stomach over staggered percussive patterns and playful synth sounds. From the jaunty flute-driven "Rhode Rage" that follows, the album careens down a path of modular beats and broken samples. Fragments of string and wheezing synth struggle to make it past the finish line; the stunning "Pucker Lips" is exemplary of the album's palette. A scratchy modular beat carves out a serrated path for a ribbon of melody to sputter and flag about, moving with a beguilingly organic fluidity.
The tracks billed to Geiom take on all sorts of forms and textures, from caustic acid to crunchy techno and cascading drum machine workouts. But they all sound like the work of one determined producer—even more disparate moments like when the buffed digi-dub textures of "Cask Riddim" grow scales into the roughshod "Osceola." Black Screen has an almost improvised feel, as if Joory just sat down in his studio and turned on his gear with a rough idea of what he wanted to accomplish. Yet underlining this improvisatory mood is his inveterate smoothness: Geiom takes his machines for a thrill ride rather than the other way around.
Even the moments where it's supposed to be failing—the relentlessly weird Hem tracks which pop up like viruses—Joory keeps a ruthless grip over the whole thing. Initially inspired by failing machines, Black Screen actually becomes a manifesto about the ins and outs of music-making technology. It's about stretching machines to their limits but keeping them firmly in line, about how you can make dance music out of the strangest elements (and devices) and still have it come out sounding relatively, well, danceable. It forces a collision between the unforgivingly avant garde with the friendly and familiar. Black Screen turns out to be a lot of things, but most of all it's uncommonly captivating, keeping you held in place every time because you never know where it's going next, even on your 20th listen.