Despite the fact that it was said to have taken five years to create, it could have, perhaps, used some more time to ripen.
I once ate an unripe pair and it was not a pleasant experience. You enter with the expectation of sweetness and find only sour. The acid affects the nerves of your mouth like live wires -- the reward for your added effort of biting harder, breaking off a much smaller piece, and in some cases brutally cutting the delicate membrane on the roof of your mouth. These are the images conjured for me by the title of Bee Mask’s When We Were Eating Unripe Pairs, and like those images, the record is a surprising mix of sweet and sour.
Dotted with drips and punched full of holes, the album evokes a certain unsettling destruction. It plays best as a single 30-minute experience. There are elements of beauty, as in the mounting synth layers on “The Story of Keys and Locks”. As the track reaches the ascent of its noisiest and most urgent crescendo, it fades to silence, revealing only the simple random punctuation of distant sounds. “Pink Drinq” is all liquid '70s B-movie-inspired sci-fi and aimless electronic voices chirping relentlessly like a forest full of android parakeets. But there’s a monster in the forest -- I imagined it like the black smoke from the television series Lost, and it was equally as unexplained and pointless. Halfway through the track, it crushes and destroys your speakers into audio decay and, just as fast, stops again. Chris Madak, the man behind the mask, returns frequently to the common thread of the album, the echo of sci-fi warbles bubbling their way into a brew of barely audible percussion, on “Fried Niteshade”.
Opener “Frozen Falls Frozen Falls Frozen Falls Frozen Falls” introduces us to the form the record will take. It’s an ambient sound project which tickles and teases the ear. It manages to walk along the border of harshness without ever crossing over. The noise offers no mood, no suggestion, and no aim. The effect is somehow cold, distant, and noncommittal. It doesn’t move or take any melodic or organic form but prefers merely to come and go. There are sounds engineered to suggest without confirming anything. Dripping faucets in a dank underground parking lot? Roars? Groans? Wind? Or “Rain in Coffee”?
It’s at least 24 minutes of beautifully engineered sound and nothing more until you finally arrive at the final track, which takes a stab at chords but falls short of song. The notes meander and swirl like a calm sea in early morning. Out in the middle of it, floating distant from the grounding of land, you bob and gaze over the ripples and find yourself drawn in, unable to discern where the horizon becomes the sky and before you know, you’re back to silence again.
It was an interesting listening experience but not one which in any way made itself notable. The title track, “Unripe Pairs”, raises your attention only because of the recognition of the similarity between it and the crushingly clear chords from the THX movie's opening animation. There are many interestingly constructed ambient sound projects which offer theme, mood, background audio comfort, or stark soundscapes to take you on a guided journey of some special world. This one plays more like a collection of the residual sounds in between them. It's hard to find your way, hard to sink your teeth into it. In spite of the fact that it was said to have taken five years to create, it could have, perhaps, used some more time to ripen.