The latest album from multi-instrumentalist Jon DeRosa, a record of drone-pop with free jazz aspirations, is more an enigma than an experience.
This is how free jazz dreams: patiently, because the universe is patient. This is what free jazz dreams about: it's less complicated than you would expect, moving slower than standard time-lapse dream life, ruminating on ideas both abstract and expansive.
Meditation comes before prescience in the subconscious state of formless music. Its fantasies are abrupt chasms of nothing, the kind of untouchable hollows that haunt insomniacs.
Aarktica's Bleeding Light is a manifestation of this concept: its contents exist in a foggy state of perpetual repetition and redundancy. Sonically, Bleeding Light is deeply indebted to the in-between passages found in Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden or Laughing Stock, those moments of unsettling placidity where jazz, pop, and sound manipulation are all suggested. Like a waking dream or a sleeping reality, Aarktica (multi-instrumentalist Jon DeRosa with a handful of guest musicians) performs where edges aren't defined, depths aren't charted, and space, in that moment, is infinite.
A rotating infinity is what Bleeding Light serves to provide on its best tracks. These extended drones offer the possibility of revelation beyond their deceivingly reiterative surfaces. "A Shadow Knife (Draws the Bleeding Light)", the eight minute instrumental centerpiece of the album, is a strong example of this comforting movement, cyclical and concentrated. The song is a steadying swirl, trumpet and saxophone hovering around a programmed beat and trancelike guitar; its centripetal pull is reinforced with an added breakbeat. More unsteady and ominous is the opening incantation "Depression Modern": unsteady because it feels like it could split open and bleed at any moment, provoked by the slither of tongue-stoked reeds; ominous because its loops -- a pounding chord, a backwards wavelength -- support doubtful vocals. "I have seen this night before / I remember it in theory," DeRosa sings, anemically, under the ebb and flow of the pulsing instrumentation. "I have seen this night before / Or else I made it up completely." Most impressive is the closing title track, a loop of drums and guttural sitar that churn like a drugged, uncomplicated "Tomorrow Never Knows". This creation is a core-bound twister, structurally tight and exceedingly simple, a shoegazing zone-out that develops its distilled swoon from utter focus. DeRosa negotiates its muddy spin cycle with a resilient mantra: "Come on baby, gonna make it through the night / Gotta waste nearly half our lives before we find the beacon of the bleeding light".
At Bleeding Light's very core is a distrustful consciousness, represented by sounds that are at once suspicious and familiar. The saxophones that wake, groggy and irritable, in the midst of "Night Fell, Broke Itself"; the dissonant feedback squalls that contort like papier-mâché wings, a calming and a nuisance, in "We're Like Two Drops Separated by a Drowning"; the wordless vocals, tarred in buckets of reverb, floating aimlessly in "Twilight Insecta": all are sounds seeking a purpose, and it's not immediately clear whether that search is meaningful or meaningless. The possibility of deriving some kind of conclusion or enlightenment from Aarktica's spinstering is just that: a possibility, undefined and unfocused, susceptible to misinterpretation or over-interpretation.
Different listeners will hear different things in Bleeding Light (Aarktica's fourth release and first since 2003's Pure Tone Audiometry); it's nearly impossible to sit through its quasi-turbulent drones without eventually transferring the contents of your own head onto the mix. In infinity, and in eternity, we hear what we want to hear and judge accordingly. Bleeding Light is, therefore, a subjective experience, made whole or disassembled by an individual's interpretation of what he wants it to be.