Rene Hell is Jeff Witscher's most enduring alias. The Californian artist has made two full-lengths under the name, plus a split with Oneohtrix Point Never and a dizzying array of limited cassette releases. On Vanilla Call Option, his first record for PAN, Witscher has taken a further left turn, abstracting his work to a far greater degree than he did on Porcelain Opera or The Terminal Symphony.
Witscher's current style is to produce short, self-contained pieces that all draw from the same palette. On Vanilla Call Option, the sounds are both mechanical and organic: metallic clangs offset creaking doors, garish synth notes are pitted against elongated breaths. Much of the album was written in airports, and there is something of those modern spaces to be heard in the record. Disembodied digital clicks flit around the peripheries, while radar bleeps puncture waves of barely audible bass. Much of the opening section, though, is so feather-light that it evokes not the airport so much as the sound of its air conditioning system, with distant clangs that seem to come from the far end of a ventilation shaft.
Though less melodic than The Terminal Symphony, Vanilla Call Option is more tuneful than it might at first appear. "Merci Cheri" and "Var_Len" form the beating heart of a record that otherwise more or less abandons harmony and rhythm. Repeated listens reveal melodies that aren't immediately obvious. Opener "Smile Models" sets off a series of frantic digital pings that eventually become a loop-the-loop descant, while on "Unpack; Glue" the sounds of a wet finger round the rim of a glass begin to harmonise with each other.
Vanilla Call Option shows the more experimental side of PAN. It has much in common with Rashad Becker's Traditional Music Of Notional Species Vol. 1, but while Becker's work feels biological, this one is machinelike. At times it feels so paper-thin that at first there seems to be little to attach yourself to. On close listening, though, it presents moments of stark, bewildering beauty.
Tracklist: Rene Hell - Vanilla Call Option01. Smile Models
02. This Is Chess
04. Unpack; Glue
05. Merci Cheri
07. The Chess Sickness
08. Furniture Music
09. Le Kitchen Map
10. Buf. Catch
11. Kalashnikov Uzi