An experimental noise/freak label from Baltimore called sPLeeNCoFFiN (I gather the capitalization of the name is somewhat important for some reason) released “big Gary” on tape last summer, the newest drop from Brooklyn’s Embarker, aka Michael Barker. Though the tape is titled “big Gary” and has mildly silly artwork scrawled across a comforting piece of yellow memo pad paper, the fact that this is an expression of violence via modified and homemade instruments and synths isn’t an easy thing to ignore. It just happens to be an expression of violence via modified and homemade instruments and synths that is filtered through a warped sense of humor. Tracks like “Friendship Park” or “Golden Loaf” might hint at something lighter of heart than what’s actually to be heard, which is largely razor shards of synth shrapnel bombarding from all directions. Often it sounds like your household appliances turning against you, plotting a twisted revenge as synths switch to life and rise intimidatingly in opener “Severine,” then exacting said revenge moments later in “Operation Kalamazoo,” wielding knives or other sharp objects to make your ears pay for whatever offense they so rudely committed. This is easily one of the most ostensibly brutal works to find my tape deck in a while.
There’s little in the way of common musical convention. Tonal relationships don’t make much sense (nor do they sound like they are trying to), rhythms are caddywhompus and eschew, and melody? Fucking forget about it. But releases such as “big Gary” do manage something uniquely musical in their own right anyway, and certainly noise junkies will realize this and appreciate what Embarker has brought to the table. Most of the draw is in the wide spectrum of textures and sounds produced themselves and the way in which they are arranged. Overall, side two does a better job of making the sell. In particular, “Golden Loaf” is probably the best representation of how Embarker’s work sculpts form and function from the chaotic and disparate with artistry; Big fat bass tones beat hypnotically while static and noise dive bomb and bounce rhythmically off the foundation in measured explosions. The track also features a lot of open space to further emphasize that yes, this is all totally crazy, but it’s also calculated and very carefully and precisely crazy.
There are a couple of weird moments of volume shifts that don’t sound intentional, and given that stuff like this can be a bit of a blur to concentrate on, these anomalies loosen whatever grip you can get on a certain track slightly. But petty criticisms aside, Embarker is totally wild stuff. He’s an artist truly “embarking” into frightening and curious new territories on the great noise frontier. A nice reminder that no matter how much of this stuff crosses your hi-fi, there are still folks out there who will continue to surprise.