Ilar’s intricate music has found homes on a long list of labels including Cologne’s Plong!, the Danish dub-techno imprint Echocord, Miami’s Merck along with its sub Narita and more recently on Düsseldorf’s Level Records. His idiosyncratic approach occupies a relatively narrow niche on the electronic music spectrum defined by dark experimentalism. While Ilar has always crafted his productions with openness, culling influences from across the board from hip-hop to glitch to techno, his work is most often underpinned by a sense of cold space and loneliness – the sparse abstractions on the minimalist Dutch label Audio.nl were not so far removed from the dark electro-house on Shitkatapult.
Sworn, Ilar’s fifth album, sees a brightening of his characteristic darkness. More beat oriented than the weighty Ludwijka Extended on Shitkatapult last year, Ilar infuses the textured layers of Sworn with warm spots of emotional glow. ‘Colours of Rain’ (included on the CD version) has squelchy, rolling beats and a plucked (banjo? shamisen?) melody that’s playful. Even cheerful. After a dark opening, the velvety bassline and clicking high hats of ‘September Nights’ builds into Dial-like tenderness when the melody kicks in half way through, and the gentle warmth of a deep, muted synth melody in ‘Made for us to Love’ balances out the sinister AFX effects in the percussion.
There’s no shortage of menace and disquiet to keep things interesting though, and the contrasting emotional currents set up an odd tension. ‘Icarus and Pegasus’ is inlaid with a synth chord melody filtered like a house tune, bright beats and glittering percussion, but the dominant theme is carried by manipulated snippets of piano that are hauntingly dissonant. But it’s not a new track - Ilar was playing it back in 2004. Two other older tracks from the Organza EP (Level Rec, 2006) ‘Lakeside’ and ‘Can’t Force a Tree to Grow’ (a track that also dates back to mid 2004 live-sets) included on the CD version colour the album a shade darker, too, as does the mournful ‘Tomorrow Never Came’.
Ilar’s cold percussion and sinister effects are tempered with warmth on Sworn, making the album, overall, lose power even as the emotional complexity is increased. It doesn’t have the impact of the chilling Treasure Gardens EP (Echocord, 2004) or Wintersleep (Fueradeserie! 2007), or the seductiveness of his live sets, but the eight tracks do cohere into something substantial and perplexing.