James Place, ‘Living on Superstiton’

Posted by on March 4, 2015

Living on Superstition

Umor Rex, 2.24.2015

Phil “PT” Tortoroli co-curates NYC’s burgeoning Styles Upon Styles imprint, which is focused on dropping adventurous slabs of wax in a primarily electronic vein. Alongside the mother imprint, which features arresting music from the likes of Archie Pelago and White Visitation, PT and his co-conspirator Cambo have also engaged artists such as Best Available Technology and Certain Creatures to spread their wings across hand-decorated platters for their Bangers & Ash (or BASH) series. On the BASH releases, musicians pit their most frenetic sounds against their most laid-back vibes. The resultant 12-inch discs are seriously mental and worth grabbing hold of if they’re still available, which I highly doubt.

Last year, Tortoroli unleashed his first collection of tunes as James Place, the luscious An Entire Matchbook a Night, for the always fantastic Opal Tapes label. With that release, he explored both twilit ambient textures and dextrous drum machine workouts across seven contemplative tracks. Tortoroli showed us two sides of himself: the nocturnal drone wizard weaving strands of sound, and the beat butcher purveying subdued stabs of percussion. Matchbook was certainly an ace tape, but it was merely a staging ground for this, his debut LP.

Living on Superstition arrives via Mexico City’s Umor Rex label, and it expands considerably on both the sound palette and the techniques offered up on Matchbook. Perhaps feeding off of the energy of M. Geddes Gengras – who mastered the album – or the array of analogue gear that he used to create it, Tortoroli demonstrates a keenness to experiment and grow as an artist. Right from the get-go, “Another Mourning in America” takes a leap at the cinematic, with cascades of warbling synths that herald a shuffling snare rhythm. A bold statement, the track promulgates Tortoroli’s intrepid new direction in sound production, ending with an explosion that dissolves into a faded synthesizer chord. “High Rise (Rainier)” is also a sizzler of a tune, with a pseudo-random cluster of clicks and gurgles serving as a mesmerizing tapestry that is filtered and dissolved into and out of focus. Somehow, the layers of sound are interleaved in such a way that they evoke a sense of melodic awareness that seems like it shouldn’t be there. It’s a haunting and harrowing piece that seeks and eventually finds release as it recedes into the shadows.

“Sadie’s Tears” jumps back to the melodic techno-like stirrings that graced the Matchbook cassette, albeit in a slightly more adventurous vein. Its snare / hi-hat rhythm seems to morph as the short track unfolds, eventually sliding out of focus. The stirring “Simmered and Brewed” is without any beats at all, its barely audible arpeggio serving as a jumping off point from which Tortoroli’s drones can spiral outward. Eventually, the dissected chords boil away, leaving only a field of static to beckon listeners toward the playful “Overcast and Burned.” A click-clack rhythm and teeter-totter melody bounce off of cracked plaster walls covered with faded, decades-old designs. There are ghosts here, but their purpose is to entertain, not to frighten. “Sense of an Ending,” on the other hand is far more sinister, with its disintegrated calliope melody and eerie washes of static.

A short, looped pattern introduces “Lyra’s Grin,” which is steeped in crackles and layers of buzzing radio static. Eventually, a techno-like beat rises to the surface, anchoring the proceedings to the present tense. To close out the album, Tortoroli chose his lengthiest and most diverse piece of music, the crafty “Behind Windows.” Melodies arrive and abruptly vanish out the back door, as a faint howling conjures a repetitive pattern that eventually erupts into a roaring drone. Slowly, faint echoes of noise intervene and ultimately take Living on Superstition to its conclusion.