b°tong – Structures

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b°tong - Structures

The story unfolds like this: an experimental electronica musician is overwhelmed by the experience of visiting, in summer no less, a hyperborean ice palace in the far northern recesses of Sweden. Said musician also developed a soft spot for early industrial textures and pioneering ambient soundscapes over the past 10 years while cutting his teeth in the ambient/drone scene of another frosty European locale (Switzerland). Where does the tale go from here? You might be able to surmise the anticlimactic ending without any further detail, but here it is nonetheless: this mysterious and shadowy figure ends up assembling an album of such chilling creepiness that it makes Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2 sound like a collection of sugar-coated lullabies. To be exact, the result is Structures, and if your imagination is as vivid as mine, you might also find yourself thinking it was recorded on the Planet Hoth while the galaxy’s aqueous reptiles and imperial droids converge on the first rave to be held inside Jabba the Hutt’s new winter estate. Believe me, I wish I was kidding too.

Chris Sigdell is to blame for this nightmareish hallucination. The Basel, Switzerland musician goes by the name of b°tong, which frankly only adds another layer of iciness to the proceedings. How chilling would Boba Fett have been in Star Wars if we had found out his real name was Mike?

Despite its 7 tracks, Structures is really best listened to as one long work; with no discernible changes or alterations in mood from beginning to end (other than subtle variations between grim and hopeless), it feels a lot like an agonizingly slow crawl through a dark tunnel where the dim light at the other end never gets closer. Throw in some Shining-era Kubric camera work, and you get a pretty clear idea just how bleak and unsettling this set of “songs” really is.

To kick off this desolate cycle, we have “Hands Up: Who Wants To Die?” The track fades in with a drone reminiscent of a digeridoo before blending with some bass-heavy keyboard tones that sound like a Star Destroyer is passing just overhead. The ebb and flow of static takes over, leaving you wondering if the abrasive pummeling you just put your stereo through did some damage to the speakers; the grittiness is so real that a technical malfunction is not impossible. Just to kick things up a notch, we hear a heavily processed human scream at the end, followed by an FX-treated voice reciting the title of the track three times in succession. Mood music, indeed.

Few changes are in store when we arrive at “Tu Me Degoute,” other than the sounds of chirping crickets and a sampled female voice that seems to be speaking French. As the tides of dissonant synths roll in and out, the cavernous textures really grow dull. Finally in “Fahrenheit…What Fahrenheit?” we hear single (albeit extraordinarily discordant) synth bass notes that could be a melody were it not for them being plucked with the randomness of a wind chime. But I suppose that’s the point. And so the journey down the dark and chilly tunnel continues.

The only song that really resonates (ironically, without the help of reverb) is “Stalker.” It’s nothing that Richard James didn’t do 1,000 times better in Aphex Twin, but now that the headache-inducing echo is gone, the dreariness is almost satisfying as the warmth of the droning keyboards envelopes you. The final three tracks offer only slight deviations from what has come before: computerized vocals and plenty more noise (check out the tidal wave of static on “Motherlode” if you’re really bored) that you could probably generate on your own if you blared a bunch of low-signal AM radio stations through an 800 watt amplifier in an empty church sanctuary. But who has the time for that?