[28 July 2014]
PopMatters Music Editor - Canada
No Lands is the moniker for Brooklyn-based electronic musician and sound artist Michael Hammond, and Negative Space, a record that was three years in the making (and it shows!) marks his project’s debut. So what is negative space? According to the press release, “in visual art, the concept of negative space refers to the areas around and between the subject of a work of art.” While that might be a hard concept to translate properly to the musical spectrum, Hammond sure does try. The sound of Negative Space is warped, with the vocals processed and distorted to a point where they sometimes sound like Smurfs. So Negative Space is largely an academic exercise, but that doesn’t mean that it is enjoyable on a purely emotional level. This is a disc that not only aims for the head, but might also make your heart shiver in places. Like the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, an image that appears recreated on the album cover art, this is mysterious and moving music that exists in its own plane. A no man’s land, if you will.
“City” has almost a country and western feel to it with a giddy-up guitar line, but crystalline synths swirl around the piece, making it utterly compelling. “Sleep Atlas”, on the other hand, feels remotely classical, with sweet harpsichord lines gently plucked into a cascade of sound, and its vocals are childlike and innocent, creating a certain dewy-eyed nostalgia in the piece. “Eyesore”, meanwhile, feels like the blues, if only the blues were bended beyond recognition. “Seawall” is glitchy in its beats, but focuses on a straight-ahead guitar line that reminds me somewhat of Thomas Dolby’s work on The Flat Earth. Closer “Outside of You” is kind of the most “traditional” song on the record, in that its vocals are not twisted beyond all recognition, but that doesn’t make it lesser. Rather, this album blends itself into a seamless whole. Overall, Negative Space is hardly negative at all, and, while its appeal might be somewhat limited to those who like their music to be daring, this is an LP that should find its way quite easily into a museum or a high art gallery. This is startling stuff.