With the 12-minute "Sassafrass Gesundheit," Tarquin Magnet begins on a harsh contrast: the bleat of a clarinet against a meat-grinder synth. The woodwind runs circles around its mechanical counterpart, and once the scribbling violin comes in, the song becomes a push and pull of extremes. Manek's messy canvas goes from chaotic to eerily empty. At its most intense, "Sassafrass Gesundheit" is a chaotic wall of noise. At most pleasant, the song is an evocative tone poem written in a language known only to Manek.
The flipside explores the dub influences in his repertoire. "Perfect Scorn" is an exercise in heady plunderphonics, as wobbling melodies are buried under layers of synth and mysterious sounds. "Blackest Frypan" closes Tarquin Magnet with volatile vibrations and the distorted vocals of Mathew Bratman. It's easily the record's sparest and most out-there track, but there's musicality to it, the same ineffable quality that renders Manek's work seductive in spite of its unfriendliness.
Tarquin Magnet's warbly sound quality only makes it odder. Most of what Manek puts out sounds like it's been rotting in an attic for years, and this album is no different. Coupled with an abrasive and rudimentary tunefulness, the style traces a line back to no wave, but where that music was explosive and cacophonous, Manek's is exploratory, maybe even optimistic. It feels like we're discovering these sounds along with the artist, who takes delight in the skronk of a wrong note or the satisfying squelch of a cranked up filter knob. And when it all comes together for brief, rare moments, the effect is pleasing, not confrontational.
No matter how many times you listen, Tarquin Magnet seems impossible to fully grasp. It takes sharp left turns, or takes you right to a dead end, before moving on. There's an element of surprise and unease to the LP, which is core to the Blackest Ever Black sound. The label is one of electronic music's most surprising, yet also most consistent, and certainly the one of the strangest. There may be no record that better embodies that complex style than Tarquin Magnet.