Monday, November 15, 2010
20,000 leagues under d&b: Senking's Pong
Every year I get wrapped up in dozens of albums; others wash over me then spill away, ‘til the shuffle function reminds me how well (poorly) I deal with the deluge sometimes. But sometimes I hear something that makes me want to tell everyone I know to listen carefully, immediately. And Senking’s Pong is just such a work. But first I feel like I have to position it a bit, because the context was the trampoline or feather bed (falling on my head) of the initial impact.
So it’s late in 2010, and here’s me, a listener and co-convener of a blog-based community I really care about, suspended between manic curiosity for new and amazing sounds and feeling, for the most part, completely fucked off with the endless bursting of tipster bubbles. This mania for representing the latest expression; this ennui for not wanting to represent anything at all. On the one hand, as Juan Mendez said in an excellent interview the other day, ‘we live in this information age… if you dig deep enough you will find it. So there's no excuse, I think, to listen to shitty music — unless you like it, which is fine.’ On the other hand, as Ben Frost said in his interview with RA a few months back: ‘It's not that I hate music as much as I know I just don't need 99% of it. I don't need to hear every half-baked rehash hipster band Pitchfork is trying to ram down my throat, just like I don't need a fucking quarter pounder meal.’ Taken together, 2010 is like Lou Reed once said in New York: ‘it’s hard to give a shit these days’. So: I am trying. But: it is trying. I note this at length because Pong made it all the way through my datasea dykes and other defensive dam(n) walls in one listen. In ear terms I was portcullis down, overrun, ransacked – and loving it.
One of the really great things about Pong is the way it adds to a decades-long conversation that has taken place between breakbeats, basslines, and the timbral atmospheres they move in. Hip-hop took breaks from funk and soul; drum and bass took the breaks, sped them up, and added those beautiful grinding, growling synthbass lines. Pong takes the synth bass lines from drum & bass and slows them right back down again. Sometimes, I think this is literal: ‘Painbug in my Eye’ sounds suspiciously like Aphrodite’s ‘Style from the Darkide’(minus Erick Sermon). But the result is not at all dubstep – in fact, the sonic absence of it is striking to my ears (and very interesting – it made me think about the difference a decade makes). Pong achieves a perfectly contemporary interpellation of 90s d&b tropes, but does so with the kind of sound design that has made Raster Noton the home of some of the advanced music of the past ten years. Senking personalizes the conversation, taking a highly particular sensibility achieved after working toward a style and using it to call to the past (a secondary ping and pong to the ping and pong with his own earlier work). The other great thing here is the quality of the compositions. Earlier Senking albums sounded like audible renditions of the Kursk disaster, cut to Eraserhead. They were harrowing affairs, and I loved them for it, but either alone on a dark street or after one too many coffees, they were hard on the nerves. Here, the undertow is right deep down beneath the slow grinding bass, the menace is sublimated, and the overall listening experienced is polished smooth enough to make it pass unnoticed past tipster sonar. Don’t let this deep craft pass – it’s extraordinary, not least of all because it is NOT homage, pastiche, or nostalgia (thank God), but rather a distillation of an already rich tradition which brings forth young, fresh spectrums out of old, tired tropics. Senking dials the 90s with a depth charge, and new ghosts howl back from the jungle.