Naming your first solo effort Collapse after over 30 years as a peripheral figure in apocalyptic music suggests a degree of violence that’s notably absent in Drew McDowall’s debut release. The kind of collapse witnessed here is a slow degeneration and deterioration, one that’s more obsessed with the mutation in the reconfiguration of the seams than the sanguinary remains of those crushed by the bottom falling out. It follows the impact of the dust disseminating rather than the impact and smash of the girders and their domino effects.
That’s not to say that Collapse is dull or too focused on the micro, far from it. Within these changes are psychedelic rendering, surrealistic contours from the confusion born of such a massive shift as a collapse. Tracks like the epic 19-minute song suite opener, “The Chimeric Mesh Withdraws (Parts 1-3)”, distort their own narrative arc several times, surprising the listener each time a melody creeps out of a drone or a damaged loop gains traction from a metallic whimper.
McDowall’s major pedigree is from time spent in Coil, a group whose reputation precedes it. Though that outfit is generally thought of as a duo at its creative core- founding members Jhonn Balance and Peter Christopherson, both of whom have unfortunately passed away within the last decade, players like McDowall , Stephen Thrower, and Danny Hyde collaborated deeply with the pair and made lasting impressions on some of Coil’s pivotal releases. McDowall started with the group in the mid-’90s and contributed his sound production talent to the “NASA Arab” single, A Thousand Lights in a Darkened Room, Time Machines, Astral Disaster, and the Nine Inch Nails remixes, amongst other essential recordings. He has spent the last decade on the outskirts of experimental electronic music, forming the group Compound Eye with Tres Warren of Psychic Ills, contributing to the odd LP like the Outer Space project of John Elliot of Emeralds that saw release on Spectrum Spools, and playing shows alongside many in Brooklyn’s rhythmic noise/technoise scene.
Collapse veers away from the latter scene’s tendency towards dancefloors. “Hypnotic Congress” is probably the closest thing the album has to a single and it churns more than it pounds, grounds down more than it slices. It’s a solid seven minutes of machinal rhapsody, a constantly transforming succession of Cyborgian waveform phrases that never leave the uncanny valley into humanoid representation. Even when a vocal chant is introduced, it is chopped and precise, processed alongside the jittery Alva Noto-esque telecom of the various haywire circuitry running out the boards. “Convulse” reminds me a bit of Container’s use of repetitious wordplay on tracks like “Percolate”, but the former track’s gait is crooked and laggard, its queasy reverberations appropriately soundtracking the cachexy micro-narrative of the lyrics.
Collapse will not leave anyone wrecked or obliterate anyone’s record collection. If anything, it will fit neatly on the shelf next to those Coil albums and Editions Mego volumes. Deep listening, however, will reward any listener observing closely the sonic pavement as it begins liquidate.