Available on: Subtext LP

Roly Porter’s music has always had a cosmic sense of scale. His solo debut Aftertime came as a shock to anyone used to his sub-heavy work as half of dubstep duo Vex’d. All but beatless, it conjured gigantic, intricately detailed spaces that seemed dystopian in the post-human sense of the word. Untethered from the grid, tracks dominated by tectonic fields of bass and highly wrought strings could only be partly ascribed to one genre or another. The influence of dub was endured from Porter’s club music days, but so did drone, science fiction soundtracks, and folk and classical musics.

His second album, Life Cycle Of a Massive Star, is even more ambitious, conceptually mapping a star’s life from birth to decay onto thirty-five minutes of immersive indefinable music. He uses the massiveness of his primary subject matter as a means to zoom in on very human concerns – fear, mortality, and individual insignificance, effecting the interaction between the minute and the cosmic with fantastic dynamic range. Near-inaudible electronic hums open the first track ‘Cloud’. They coalesce into a gritty swathe of particles that swirl and crumble, all movement and no direction. The rhythmic pulse comes not from a kick drum, but nervous thrumming beat. Strings and synths rise to improbable heights, then lapse, and lone bowed notes poke through the electronic fog as it looms and wanes.

On ‘Gravity’, an ominous bass throb and fried electronics crescendo into a tower of sound. They recede, and drones pitched to aggressively high frequencies and the odd bleep splinter through. A string figure enters, at first high and isolated, then accompanied by deeper tones and, eventually, a smear of potent low end, reverberating in what seems like infinite space. ‘Sequence’ is also contemplative in the vein of Stars of the Lid, composed of shifting, airless drones that teem with micro-activity. ‘Birth’ starts more forcefully, with great blasts of initially infrequent noise that pick up momentum against a backdrop of sustained notes, from which majestic strings and muffled choral tones slowly emerge.  Again, that whirring rhythm enters, growing with the strings into a cacophony that Porter strips away to reveal the cold void beneath. Life Cycle closes with the monumental ‘Giant’. Dense, terrifying flares of noise slice through a bass pulse. Extreme volume and near-silence occur within milliseconds of one another. The effect is profoundly disorienting – not unlike, you imagine, being dropped into the eye of the apocalypse itself. Porter doesn’t just summon the epic scale of the cosmos; he uses it to tap into an awareness of mortality that cuts uncomfortably close to the bone.

4.5
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