The first time the word “mammoth” was used as an adjective, it described a 1,234-pound wheel of cheese, an amalgamation of every cow in the town of Chesire, Massachusetts’ milk. Gifted to then-President Thomas Jefferson, Federalists dubbed the gift “mammoth cheese” because of the ancient animals’ bones being recently uncovered in New York state. Obscure history, munchies, and a fumigating-esque repugnance; ah, yes, doesn’t this sound like college all over again? Luckily, for those looking to relive their college years, or for the experimental ambient fan seeking to soundtrack next semester’s fabled dorm-room philosophizing, Scottish outfit GNOD’s latest release Infinity Machines provides plenty of fodder and comes packed with starter topics, free of charge!
Perpetual dorm favorite Jacques Derrida once wrote “there is no outside-text”, as in, context is everything. We can apply this, then, to the all-too-obvious release date of some of Infinity Machines’ songs onto Spotify: April 20, 2015. While the stoner holiday has become relatively commercialized and quickly burned-out by sub-par releases from rappers, GNOD’s offering is a token that even the purest of ‘60s tokers would be apt to spin. By not diluting the droning journey with frequent melody shifts and the inclusion of blaring instruments, the few, consistent sounds pulsating each song’s core makes the daunting, mammoth 1:51:30 runtime seem completely necessary. You don’t sprint through the cosmos, you traverse through them, absorbing the gaseous bodies and finding asylum in the dark. And when that black hole comes, you slip right in like it’s your favorite nightgown.
This is an album that exists liminally between public and private - made by a fluid collective of artists whose number is undefined but whose name is one, the choice between delving into the subconscious of the self or testing the reactions of a group emerges because words quickly fail to appreciate the effects that such a creation grants the physical and mental states. The first “vocals”, if they can be called that, that appear on the album belong to starry-eyed musings about privacy minutes into the warping and beeping and chirping synth rumbles that open “Control Systems”. “It’s hard to say what privacy is…notions of public and private,” the open-ended, unanswered ramblings barely audible as a single saxophone embarks on an elongated lament. This drips into an inclusive measure of guiding mallets, the cheeriest bit of the piece. As the final minutes emerge, cloaked in religious discussions and darkened distorts, the GNOD of tongue-in-cheek blaspheming Ingnodwetrust shows itself. The band’s label, Rocket Recordings, were responsible for the release of the mysterious religious-y outfit Goat’s 2014 masterpiece Commune, and the communal feeling GNOD exudes in interviews transfers into the music.
“Inevitable Collateral” seamlessly follows “Control Systems”, hearkening to a collision of shrieks and the mysterious rustling of wind as the instruments themselves hide the subconscious transformation currently taking place. As with the seventeen-minute opening track, somehow, these ten minutes shift from wailing to acid house staccato grooving back to the album centerpiece saxophone like the most logical paint-by-number, despite the actual complexities involved. With every one-off shimmer or rattling hint of other instruments, GNOD’s genius in captivating the mind exalts them from experimental for experimental’s sake to a band offering a gift of postmodern composition. Oddly industrial horror-chic “Desire”, the album’s second-shortest track at just under six minutes, would be the perfect compliment to a cyberpunk manifesto or the spurring of a self-induced rebellion against conformity. The third track on each disc, “Breaking the Hex” on the second disc, are the shortest and filled with the quickest outbursts of aggressiveness seen on the otherwise esoteric album. Reminiscent of their 2013 release Chaudelande, these two tracks allow longtime GNOD fanatics a reprieve from the celestial abysses explored on Infinity Machines.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the three-track mid-section, encompassing “Importance of Downtime”, “White Privileged Wank”, and “Spinal Fluid”. Over the course of this forty-five minutes, a ruse of a wispy bell opener lulls serenity before the impending raucous breaching of sound. Paranoid, drone-heavy, and dark, these three songs could inspire a dystopian world whose sonics El-P would be proud to call his. Twisting the synths directly equates to a twisting of the mind, the schizophrenic chatter underneath the glacial drones unsuitable for anybody seeking serenity. But this isn’t GNOD’s forte - they don’t do calm, they don’t do sugarcoated.
Infinity Machines, throughout, is as human an album as has been made this year. When Tim Gray made his drone composition Polyhedrons, he linked his master’s thesis on using music as an intentionally therapeutic asset. Though they utilize the same tools, GNOD’s created a brutally raw release that laughs in the face of anything providing solace. While Thomas Hobbes reminded us that life is brutish, nasty, and short, the world in which these lives are played out is large and imposing, inescapable and challenging. An album commanded by machines, few releases could tap into our terrifying mortality like this.