Charlatan - Isolatarium

Available on: Type LP

Youʼve got to hand it to Type. With a catalogue that includes Clams Casinoʼs woozy hip-hop instrumentals, Vatican Shadowʼs Kneel Before Religious Icons, Peter Broderickʼs post-classical / pre-twee albums, and Deaf Centerʼs Lynchian masterpiece Pale Ravine, the label is one of the very few record labels to actually stick by a principle of quality over genre snobbery. The upshot of this is not only a dedicated fanbase (and a number three spot in FACTʼs best labels of 2012) but a spiritual home for artists given to experimentation.

Man of many monikers and curator of the Digitalis record label, Brad Rose is enviably prolific, with past releases that include weird folk-pop (Exquisite Idols) and noise albums (Bloodlines) as The North Sea (both also released on Type). As Charlatan, Triangles – released on his own imprint – was a soaring, melodic affair, all celestial synths and big emotive swells. Isolatarium, like so many Type releases, makes this kind of genre distinction largely redundant but, along with the likes of Container and Pete Swanson, can be vaguely located in that liminal space between noise and dance music that has proven to be surprisingly fertile in recent years. It also might be Roseʼs best work yet, often discomfiting but sometimes quite lovely too, as in opener ʻCodexʼ, which repeats an eerie melodic phrase, wreathed in weathered analogue fuzz and swooning pads. As the title implies, ʻCodexʼ is continuous rather than linear, a feat of beatless texture. But even tracks with a 4/4 techno pulse lend themselves better to body listening than dancing. In ʻKinetic Disruptionʼ, a liquid melody roves around a dissonant broth of analogue burbles, battered creaks and crunches, the sluggish beat emphasising the amorphousness of its surroundings.

Closing the A-side (like most of Roseʼs releases, Isolatarium is written very much with vinyl play in mind) is ʻAnti-Crash Deviceʼ, all blips, underwater chords and horror film scrapes that compete with one another and then merge into a frowzy blur, culminating in a wash of noise overlain with off-kilter staccato beeps. Shifting narrative direction towards somewhere more panicked, ʻElectronic Horizonʼ is a mass of sound that bubbles satisfyingly in a hundred directions. Its portentous kick, deranged synth line and low drone crescendo together, with a plaintive wail cutting through. Itʼs discombobulating stuff, all the more so when the whole thing fades out without any real resolution.

The word “isolatarium” evokes seclusion and confinement, sensations that dominate the record. Take the discordant forays of ʻCruiserʼ, where splintered sonics uncurl and collapse inward, teeming in their own hot, frothy space, or abstract closer ʻTerminal Zeroʼ, where self-reflexive synths whirl amid a pattering phosphorescent clamour. Each sliver of music seethes with miniscule, febrile energy, in the paradoxical state of movement without a journey. Where Bloodlines was steeped in the self-conscious sombreness of power electronics and Triangles was an expansive exercise in stargazing, Isolatarium feels windowless and a not a little claustrophobic. Still, vaguely Kafkaesque track titles aside, it isnʼt particularly bleak, and it might just be this emotional ambivalence that enables Rose to go deeper than ever.

As a logical counterpoint to what Dan Snaith memorably called the “EDM barfsplosion”, left-of-leftfield experimental music has had one of its most successful years in recent memory. Itʼs a shame that, thanks to its release date, one of the most commendable works from the current crop of innovators is likely to be overlooked. But be that as it may, Isolatarium is a typically strong release from a label thatʼs been in the game nearly 10 years and – thankfully – is showing no sign of slowing down.

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