Photo: Grace Villamil

Tyondai Braxton: HIVE1

As a look into Braxton's mind, HIVE1 is as fascinating as it is unsettling.
Tyondai Braxton

Battles are scientists. Mad scientists, yes, but everything they made was finely tuned, measured down to the millimeter. Live, the band wasn’t afraid to blast eardrums, but it was precise. Tyondai Braxton, a former member of Battles, is still experimenting. His pedigree isn’t just from Battles; after all, his father is jazz wizard Anthony Braxton.

With HIVE1 Braxton doesn’t want to be compared to his kin or former bandmates. Instead, he deep dives inward. But if his work with Battles was the patent after hundreds of hours of research, HIVE1 still has test tubes on the counter; fascinating in many regards, but perhaps not meant for outside viewing.

Much of HIVE1 feels nonsensical in structure and alien in its foundation. Second track “Boids” is built around a chopped-and-rattling percussion sample that gives way pulsing kick drum, and sudden, shimmering synths that rush in like an unexpected breeze. The song is eventually taken over by particularly violent gusts of synths, liable to send shivers down the spine due to their eerie cadence and echoing effects. “Outpost” starts with mechanical crickets chirping before wayward and out of tune banjos come in, though they’re so obviously electronic in nature that the twitching and plucking becomes unnerving.

This is a common thread in HIVE1: something similar to the uncanny valley, where the structures of these songs are nearly human, but not quite. Quite a few sections of the aforementioned “Boids” could have been repurposed for different songs, but when jammed together they fight with each other, giving the feeling of a song ready to rip itself apart.

There’s an old Playstation game called LSD Dream Emulator, one of the most surreal and disturbing games of its era. Players wonder through psychedelic outposts, supposedly based of the dreams of the game’s developers. Each dream dissolves into a weirder space, with simple geometric shapes evolving into fractured landscapes filled with incomprehensible images. HIVE1 should have been its soundtrack. Even HIVE1’s “normal” bits only serve to accent the fevered logic of the album. “Amlochley” becomes a glittering rave piece toward its back end, with synths rising over four-to-the-four kicks, but the minutes before were made of electronic chirping and whistling that seemed completely divorced from the momentary dance break.

Some of HIVE1 seems esoteric in its weirdness, but it does lend a sense of terror to two of the album’s best tracks. “Galaveda” and “K2” are a duo placed in the back half of the album, which follow a more unsettling path than their brethren. Both could be construed as dark ambient pieces, with the “Treefingers”-like “Galaveda” shimmering in and out of existence with ghostly cries and sudden synth stabs. “K2” builds slowly over its stark percussion, but soon comes to an onslaught of sound, with white noise mixing with an electronic nervous breakdown.

Even with closing track “Scout 1” being the most danceable track on the album (and arguably the most accessible), HIVE1 mostly proves to be a record for the artist and not the listener. Braxton dedicated opening track “Gracka” to his wife Grace. Apparently “Gracka” is Grace’s nickname, and much of HIVE1 reflects the intention behind “Gracka”. It’s a private album, filled with in-jokes and notes that only make sense for Braxton himself. It’s certainly interesting to witness his insanity, but in order to “get it”, one would have to enter Braxton’s mind directly. Knowing Braxton, he’s already working on a gadget to make that a reality.

RATING 5 / 10