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Stigma
Photo: Courtesy of Pessimist Productions via Bandcamp

Stigma Continues His Run of Doomy, Minimal Trip Hop on ‘Too Long’

Stigma’s Too Long is a seven-track vortex of sinister filter sweeps, bleary-eyed synths, and detonating rhythms. As his music gets darker and weirder, it gets better and better.

Too Long
Stigma
Pessimist Productions
13 August 2021

If you’re like me, you might’ve been tempted to overlook Boreal Massif’s 2019 album, We All Have an Impact because the title sounded like some cheesy motivational slogan. But once you heard the record, you probably realized how ingeniously tongue-in-cheek the title was. It’s an album about ecological destruction with song names like “The Brink of Extinction” and “Artificial World (A Manmade Catastrophe”). The idea was that we all have an impact, but negatively, all of us contributing to the slow death of the planet. Kristian Jabs and Karim Maas, the faces behind Boreal Massif, set these ideas to a backdrop of doomy ambience and slow-burning trip-hop beats. We All Have an Impact was music for the end of the world.

But for all its doom and gloom, We All Have an Impact was a record of contrasting elements: crumbling electronics paired with faint trances of birdsong and insect drone. You could hear the natural world getting buried under the artificial one. On Too Long, Kristian Jabs’ first album under the moniker of Stigma, the natural world is nowhere to be heard. This LP has more in common with Jabs’ pre-Boreal Massif work as Pessimist when his music had more of an industrial drum ‘n’ bass flavor.

Too Long exists in a collapsing space between warehouse ambience and fractured techno. It’s anything but polished. The drums on the opener, “Madureira”, have a raw, abraded sound, as if they’re from a live recording. Even when the groove becomes more fully formed, and a series of siren-like synths chime in, the song remains beautifully understated and skeletal in structure. This is a touchstone of Too Long: Jab resists the urge to pile on bells and whistles even when the music gets heavier and heavier. His commitment to minimalism is part of his genius.

Still, for all its minimalism, you might say Too Long is a little less cold and rigid than Jabs’ work as Pessimist. Part of this is due to the presence of the human voice—the LP includes guest vocals from Karim Maas, Taylor E. Burch, Justin K. Broadrick, and Lola Thomas-Townsend (otherwise known as L). But even if you discount the vocals, the music has an undeniable bounce and charisma that keeps it from feeling too mechanical.

What’s more, the singing is not exactly front-and-center, as most of it gets submerged in the music itself. On “Believe in Me”, Lola Thomas-Townsend’s pained, echoing vocals are buried under a swaggering triphop groove and grating, knifelike bass. On “No Garden”, Justin K. Broadrick’s vocals are muffled and pitch-shifted to such a low register that at times they’re easy to mistake for a synthesizer. These vocal features add depth and personality to the mix, but they function more like instruments than show-stealers. Jabs’ knack for conjuring unforgettable grooves out of nothing is what ultimately makes the LP kick ass. Every song here plods along like a rickety subway train on the verge of collapse, the beats falling in on themselves and the vocals merely eddying underneath them.

If We All Have an Impact was apocalyptic, then Too Long is post-apocalyptic. This is music for when the end of the world has already happened and there are only shards of humanity left. It’s a seven-track vortex of sinister filter sweeps, bleary-eyed synths, and detonating rhythms. As the music of Kristian Jabs gets darker and weirder, it just gets better and better.

RATING 9 / 10
PopMatters