If you're a filmmaker short of some moody, club-adjacent music, this LP should fit the bill.
Aquarian—he hasn't revealed his real name—has been releasing music since 2012 on labels like UNO (where he saw himself as the "normal, straight-forward producer" of the experimental NYC bunch) and tape series Quiet Time. Since then he's teamed up with Deapmash as AQXDM, releasing vintage-flavoured techno on Houndstooth and Bedouin Records, the label where he returns for his first album, The Snake That Eats Itself. Most of this new record was actually made four years ago, when the Canadian producer was living in New York and integrating his early influences: industrial, dubstep, jungle and, notably, film scores.
If there's one word that describes this album, it's "cinematic." Aquarian likes to build walls of sound, with multiple channels dedicated to elements that you might call "atmospherics": misty drones looming in the distance, the crackle of surface noise, unidentified fuzzing objects. Tracks feel like portentous backdrops to some unseen action; in your mind's eye, Robert Pattinson is hurling himself into a getaway car.
The opening tracks are a 12-minute slog of scene-setting, starting with oily drones on "End Credits" (a knowing title) and continuing over "Blood Sugar," nearly ten minutes of shattered snares and brooding miasma. Aquarian adds detail as he goes along, balancing extra kit on the donkey and waiting for it to buck. That finally happens after four long minutes with a sub-shaking drop and a volley of breakbeats. Two minutes later he changes gear again, revving the Reese bass like Hades on a Harley Davidson. The small details keep coming: rackety breakbeats, a sliver of purring trap hi-hats. It's loud. It's dramatic. It would sound great on 5.1 surround sound—but there's something about this fireworks display that feels a little bit reverent, a bit nerdish. Like A-grade coursework for a music production course, it meets the brief impeccably.
"Blood Sugar" takes up most of the album's first quarter, but more widescreen epics follow. On "Ouroboros," an electro beat inches forward like the titular snake, engorged on club-historical references. The gothic bluster of Nine Inch Nails springs to mind again, with a thousand snares slamming like bedroom doors. The precision beat science of "Tarp2" seems inspired by the mind-collapsing choppage of modern drum & bass producers—Sully, for instance, or one of the Rupture LDN crew.
The pyrotechnics are interspersed by quieter moments like "Sketch 2 (Song For D.O.U.G.)," a beatless soup of Glassworks piano which has been phased and reversed into Emeralds-style prettiness. The churning drones of "New York, An Eternity" feel like a rare glimpse of autobiography, reflecting the long waiting period before Aquarian's move to Berlin.
Those interludes aren't club tracks, obviously, but nor are the beat-heavy tracks. Unlike Aquarian's walloping music as AQXDM, nothing on The Snake That Eats Itself is linear or repetitive enough to be functional for DJs. The result is an album that feels like the bedroom studies of a frustrated producer, up all night making tunes while movies play on mute in the background. Perhaps Aquarian sees this album as an archival release: much too good to throw out, but not necessarily representative of his Berlin phase and his expanded dance floor interests. Still, as a calling card to wave in front of A24 executives it's pitch-perfect.
Tue / 28 Jan 2020
01. End Credits
02 Blood Sugar
03. Sketch 2 (Song for D.O.U.G.)
06. New York, An Eternity
07. Hate Is a Strong Word, Pt. 1
08. Hate Is a Strong Word, Pt. 2: Bruxist
09. Letting Go At Arm's Length
10. 365 Days And Counting