Aarktica – Pure Tone Audiometry

Pure Tone Audiometry

After releasing an album on the decidedly more indie-pop Darla Records and one on the more experimental and drone-focused Silber Records, Pure Tone Audiometry is perhaps the perfect combination of pop and drone. Jon DeRosa, the mastermind behind Aarktica, has perhaps crafted the most accessible and intimate Aarktica album yet. As with his previous works under the Aarktica name, DeRosa layers his guitars and manipulates them into washes of noise and sonic beauty, never using a synthesizer despite falling under the drone category. Yet on Pure Tone Audiometry, he’s joined by members of Escapade, Mahogany, and Plexus on assorted strings and other instruments, and with more emphasis on vocals, many of these songs drift seductively into the realm of indie-pop.

Named after a behavioral test measure used to determine hearing sensitivity, which DeRosa underwent some years ago after losing hearing in his right ear, Pure Tone Audiometry‘s songs often refer to that theme, such as the recorded samples on “Out to Sea,” which discuss the difficulty of remembering sound. This is the perfect album for those early morning wake-ups and late-night drifts to sleep. There are the longer, more experimental drone tracks that use washes of noise and intricately crafted guitar experimentation, and there are more intricate pop tunes. Yet all drift on a sea of spacey, dreamy, layered sound and a kind of hushed beauty that makes many of these songs shining masterpieces.

The sense of being adrift is also a common theme throughout this release, as demonstrated early on the hauntingly beautiful “Out to Sea.” Male and female vocals sing together, deep and stark over a looped background. My favorite track, “Ocean,” features gorgeous vocals and simple yet soft guitar. The song starts quiet but picks up with bass and strings. On “The Mimicry All Women Use,” light drumming and shimmering guitar give the song a quieter pop feel, as DeRosa sings in his deep, conspirational voice.

The more drone-based, experimental side to Aarktica shines through on some of these tracks as well. On “Snowstorm Ruins Birthday,” the drifting soundscapes are mesmorizing, yet they’re not subtle or sleep-inducing, as great washes of looped guitars ebb and flow. Vocals fill out the subtle “Big Year,” while “Water Wakes Dead Cells” is much more a traditional drone affair with a pulse, throbbing almost relentlessly in a mildly disturbing manner. It recedes into the 12-minute closer, “Williamsburg Counterpoint,” a more traditional drone piece, more dreamy and atmospheric with light guitars and more depth to contrast its predecessor.

DeRosa seems to appreciate dichotomy. While Aarktica has always been his more experimental project, he has a new album due out this spring on Darla under his Pale Horse and Rider moniker that will show his more country-rock side. Even Pure Tone Audiometry shows his love of contrasts, as sweet pop structures are mixed with studio manipulation, creating songs that are equal parts pop tunes and experimental soundscapes. It results in a fantastic listen, clearly the most accessible and lovely album DeRosa has recorded to date.