[8 October 2009]
Despite all the prattling at the beginning of the decade, it was really the latter half of the new millennium that saw an explosion in releases invoking the spirit of post-punk. Rusty Santos has been in the middle of much of it, as a producer, mixer, or stagehand for Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance, and much of the rosters of Paw Tracks Records and the Wham City collective. It should be no surprise then that Santos would take part in a work that’s as adventurous and distinctly alien as the art of many of his associates and antecedents. The Present, his new outfit, seems to have returned from an abstract hinterland with The Way We Are, a mostly brilliant collection of abstruse sculptures of varying neoteric gradations and aleatory moods.
The album begins with “Medman”, which emerges with insistent, incipient industrial hiccups, whose lo-fi machinal looping juxtaposes against the shattered bright timbre and digital glitches that refract like glass sprinkles atop a Boyd Rice sundae. After dissipating into helicopter drones, the following track “Saltwater Trails” captures some field recordings taken either off the side of the TARDIS or near the reactor core of Forbidden Planet. Amidst this fabulous dross, fluttering nymph-like voices summon in György Ligeti-lite perversions of sirenic wails. By the time the glacial, vaporous atmospherics of “Space Meadow” tame these feverish spells, you can’t wait to see where The Present will take you next.
Unfortunately, the lead five tracks are designed to be foreplay to “The Way We Are”, a 30-minute-plus monolith, whose changes are paced lethargically. It’s a pretty satisfying centerpiece, albeit one that’s less of a detailed polymorphic hallucination, like its preceding pieces, than a live staging of a slow mental collapse. Both aesthetics are ear candy, but the feed of “The Way We Are” lacks a bit of the post-production polishing that makes the album’s first five tracks sound so precisely and ornately eccentric. Nevertheless, if this album truly is anything like the way we are in the present as Santos imagines it, we now have quite an enthralling document of our pathology to study and revisit.