Vivid power electronics.
While 2017's "Rebirth" and 2018's "Excerpt From An Atypical Brain Damage" were also noisy compositions that toyed with pressure and suspense, the tracks possessed a hi-fi sheen, even at their most discordant points. The sound design on Purge is minimalist and desolate in comparison. This is most apparent on "Watering," where you feel as if you are hovering, like a cautious ghost, through green-gray sewers. Muted vocal asides and tonal swells guide you as much as the sound of water dripping. The music's sense of hollowness ties in with the process of confronting repressed feelings that Chen describes: "Feelings you want to be feeling or 'should' be feeling but you can't because your body won't let you. Because maybe it knows it's not safe for you."
On the truly terrifying "Unleash," Chen renders this experience primarily through her vocals, with all the uncontrollability of an exorcism—the body is merely a vessel, something beholden to what's deep inside. Amidst a single, dirge-like note and sudden stabs of bass, she begins to slowly wail through blown-out effects—"Tell me," or maybe "Help me"—and then "Get out!" with increasing urgency, until the sounds coalesce into one guttural, pained scream. On "WHY," the second-last track, Chen's voice is lucid and measured. But is it clarity resulting from ultimate release, or composure in the eye of the storm? Low rumbling just beyond the foreground suggests that while the purge is immediate, healing follows another timeline entirely.
Chen describes this back-and-forth elsewhere through more traditional instruments. On "Drum Fife Bugle," she gives us her own twisted version of a battlefield ditty, where a stoic melody with flute, trumpet, and trombone is offset by the sound of a car revving up and screeching to a halt. The rhythm is resolute, gearing us up for what lies ahead. It flows naturally into the lurching rhythm of "Alive," which repurposes trumpet and trombone as a warning siren. These instruments might normally bring warmth and comfort, but in these arrangements they become dark and austere.
The album's last track, "I Am The Tree," is a reckoning of staggering scale. The thing you've tried to fight down is finally out of you, and you are face-to-face with it. There is a gradual rumbling crescendo, with a grotesque distorted guitar sprouting up through its middle. The flute returns in bright, fragmented shards, dangling above heavy crashes of power electronics. And then, a few deep pulses and an eerie fade to silence. Ominous is an overused word when writing about frightening experimental music, but Purge expresses the feeling in its entirety: the dread of waiting for the inevitable, the horror of it coming, and, perhaps scarier still, the anxiety of what might be left after it's gone.