The Bug Vs Earth - Concrete Desert

by Andy Brown Rating:8 Release Date:2017-03-24

Perhaps we should have seen it coming. In one corner we have Earth founding member and general drone-maestro Dylan Carlson while in the other we have dancehall/dub god and serial collaborator Kevin Martin aka The Bug. Anyone familiar with Earth’s Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light or The Bug’s Angels and Devils could have drawn the necessary links. I mean, beyond the obvious fixation with demons and devils. It was a match made in heaven (or should that be hell) from the very start.

Carlson and Martin began the collaborative process back in 2014 with the release of the Boa/Cold 12inch. Intensity was the order of the day with a propulsive mix of drones, beats and Dylan’s distinctively minimalistic guitar. It was these musical snapshots and a shared love of dystopian literature that formed the foundations of Concrete Desert.

The album is a dark, heavy and thoroughly absorbing trip inspired by the work of J.G. Ballard and his nightmarish visions of a not too distant future. It’s an influence that has helped to create the albums murky, uneasy tone. We’re immersed in brooding soundscapes that mirror the tense, unforgiving and harsh architectural landscapes of High Rise and Concrete Island.

Where Martin’s work sometimes sought to reflect life in the UK (The Bug’s London Zoo) and while Dylan’s projects have explored both the fairies and folk tales of England and the Wild West of novelist Cormac McCarthy, Concrete Desert seeks to explore a much more contemporary American terrain. A glance at the track titles is enough to set the scene, ‘City of Fallen Angels’, ‘Hell A’ and ‘American Dream’. We’re placed inside a decaying and dangerous vision of Los Angeles, watching the American Dream come apart at the seams.

The dark, spectral drones of ‘Gasoline’ introduce the albums’ distinctly unsettling mood; repetitive beats and swathes of feedback gradually rising from the mire. ‘Agoraphobia’ keeps the intensity suitably high with a dizzying wash of fuzzy, cracked drones. Everything falls into place rather quickly and it’s easy to see why this collaboration came to be. Carlson’s signature style adds a strangely meditative quality while Martin’s soundscapes play around with both discordant and ambient noise.

The sultry, off-kilter groove of ‘Snakes Vs Rats’ provides a rare moment of catharsis with doom-laden riffs lunging from speakers. The intense and somewhat otherworldly ‘City of Fallen Angels’ sees Caslon’s guitar weave its usual magic and create something truly hypnotic while ‘American Dream’ stands as the albums damaged centrepiece. The drones are becoming increasingly distorted, the mood a deeply ominous one.

‘Broke’ finds Carlson’s guitar snarling and wailing much like it did back on Earths 1995 Thrones and Dominions LP; a slowed down and discordant riff pushing its way through the tracks murky soundscape. ‘Don’t Walk these Streets’ could almost be some lost instrumental from David Lynch’s Lost Highway soundtrack, the piece creating a similarly claustrophobic tone.

‘Other Side of the World’ is the sound of the duo exhaling, the tension being allowed to drain away momentarily. It’s rather beautiful. ‘Hell A’ drags us back down to the mean streets before the fourteen minute title track completely submerges us in the world of Concrete Desert for the final time. It’s a sombre and mysterious piece, the sound of some ghostly orchestra playing in the ruins of a fallen city.

The album is an incredibly focused, innovative and well-realised creation, a testament to the talents of both Dylan Carlson and Kevin Martin.  While there’s hints of both men’s discographies to be found, Concrete Desert proudly stands out as a unique and impressive achievement. Close the curtains and immerse yourself.

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