Available on: Alter LP
For those who haven’t encountered it yet, Helm’s Alter label is a blessing, modestly boasting a catalogue by some of the most idiosyncratic artists around. That the label has now invited Basic House to join the fold is a welcome move, the owner of Opal Tapes coming through in typically stoic style to deliver the album Oats.
Oats digs deeper than Basic House has done before, furrowing through mulch and degradation like a particularly frustrated Robert Frost. Although some uptempo passages occur, most of the tracks are slow, dragging affairs, everything steeped in earthiness and organic debris.
It’s a record that doesn’t sit still, either. ‘AR II’ opens with a haunted house tone that quickly and unexpectedly takes an air of melancholy happiness, an odd mixture that evolves into the kind of melodic sweetness Hieroglyphic Being often employs, albeit around a slow motion grind. Breaking briefly through a sweet, pastoral recorder music sample into ‘Child Confession’, we’re shoved through a harrowing march of sustained bass, eerie bell tones and leaf-sweeping distortion, lifting half way through into some kind of texture-screwed 36 Chambers beat.
‘Interiors’ plays with concrète perceptions of production vs. performance as imaginary tapes are swapped, plunging the listener back and forth between ‘reality’ and construction – although nothing is quite as unreal as the worming modular tone, moans and ethereal, rippling, gasping pads that follows in ‘Est Oan’. ‘B.G. Feathers’ cuts in with a Pete Swanson-like beat and low distortion squeals, but adds a surprise in the form of a submerged Rachmaninov sample bubbling beneath. ‘Dry Contract’ closes on a more traditional noise drone.
The second half of the CD version – the vinyl edition is only six tracks long – features another five tracks, different in approach, less anchored and more windswept. ‘Time Table’ leads, floating like a more abrasive, strained WANDA GROUP through hiss, death rattles, gentle bass plucks, bowed cymbals and birdsong. ‘Nurse’ is a blowhole and cave mouth with howling reverberation and harmonics; ‘La Coccinelle’ a termite mound with fitful rhythm and sombre metallic background; ‘C-Beat’ a minimal stringy pulse and overtones somewhere between Africans With Mainframes, Basic Channel and Helm. ‘L-Wave and Comb’ finishes the record on a morose, yet oddly uplifting ten-minute drone fanfare, its semi-organic harshness reminiscent of Fennesz and Rehberg.
Throughout its jostling and eeriness, Oats is a very canny record – and especially when heard in these two halves. Juxtaposing arresting material that doesn’t seem like it could be made to work, Bishop bends and edits parts together with care that belies their aggression. The results feel very much alive; primal, but with the beginnings of emotional understanding. It’s a brilliant experience.