The LA-based artist's latest album is a meditation on the climate crisis.
Enter James Ferraro with Requiem For Recycled Earth, his self-described "opus into ecocide and planetary divorce." A trailer posted on Twitter further develops this concept. We see a bee—a symbol of ecosystem collapse—followed by a series of flashing images: an oil-soaked ocean, raging fires, a crying baby, washed-up fish. More clues materialise through the accompanying text of his last release Four Pieces For Mirai Overture. "By the middle 21st century all the great cities were dying," he wrote. "Skyscrapers and roads silent and empty, left to fossilize in a technological dark age." Requiem seems to take us deeper into that speculative fiction, making for the LA-based artist's most ambitious, knotty album yet.
With its dense, synth-heavy compositions, Ferraro's latest work might not seem like a huge departure from what's preceded it, but subtle differences abound. There's no guitar, which occasionally surfaced throughout Mirai's soundscapes. Nothing gets close to the pop of "Gulf Gutters," or the songs found on his R&B album Cold. The airbrushed vocal samples, fake-sounding piano and woodwind that have dominated his previous records remain, but they're given a heavier, syrup-like gloss. The album's opener, "Embryo," begins with scraping metal and Ferraro's now trademark opera-like MIDI vocals, before clanging digital percussion bounces atonally on a bed of flattened synthesised chords. It's challenging stuff, even by Ferraro's standards, taking the classical considerations that have always coursed through his work into murkier-sounding territory.
At times, it feels as if Ferraro is deliberately satirising the new age music that emerged from his home state of California in the 1980s. On the bonus track "Gaia Wept Effluent," he invokes the Gaia hypothesis and its description of the Earth as a self-regulating system, a popular theory during that decade. On "Airless Matrix," serene, gently pulsating voices form the base of the track alongside plastic-sounding flutes and the occasional crashing cymbal or booming timpani.
In spite of such orchestral percussion, Requiem's sound-world is eerily beatless. Sometimes rhythm is implied, like on "Weapon," which features a rapid-fire, trance-like melody. But more often than not, Ferraro keeps recycling the same elements—choir-like samples, queasy, padded synths, computerised woodwind—into gradually morphing shapes. It's easy to feel lost in the maze of manufactured sounds that he constructs, particularly when many of the tracks sound so similar to one another. But even then Ferraro has captured a particular dimension of ecological quagmire in which we find ourselves. Like the climate crisis itself, Requiem For Recycled Earth is an all-consuming, claustrophobic experience.