The best albums always seem to have something new to show you every time you play them, even years after the first listen. Buried sounds and ideas emerge as layers of music work their way into your psyche. Mem1 is a duo that seems especially primed for this phenomenon, given the deceptive simplicity of their music. Their bare-bones manifesto, if you will, is to “create a single voice rather than a duet between two individuals.” I don’t normally buy into press releases, but in this case, the description is especially apt as Laura Cetilia’s effects-laden cello joins seamlessly with Mark Cetilia’s electronics and synthesizer to form something reaching far beyond its base elements. For “Tetra,” the duo has crafted an amazing album that not only showcases their powerful collaborative chemistry, but also stands out as an amazing bit of experimental drone music.
While Mem1’s sound could certainly be labeled as dark and ominous, there is an underlying beauty that renders this album far more complex than it may seem on first impression. Really, the best way to navigate this intoxicating haze is to turn it way up and dive right in. The first track, “Trieste,” lays the groundwork for the rest of the album. Immediately, the core of the group’s sound is introduced, as cello and electronics begin to build and intertwine. Part of what makes this music so interesting is that it remains grounded in the familiar, thanks to the cello (even when it’s highly distorted), while it simultaneously flies into uncharted territory. When fully assembled, the track melds the electronic and the earthy to become a thick stew of drones, tones, pulses, and squall.
As if to prove that they’re no one-trick pony, Mem1 offers up the next piece, “Caldera,” which pushes their sound into extremely noisy territory. The most striking part of the song is the Tibetan horn-like buzz that comes from the manipulated cello, yet even this wouldn’t be half as interesting without everything else that happens in this sonic space. As it progresses, the track becomes a massive wall of sound, churning and breathing with a range of high and low noises.
The album ends with the massive, side-long closer “Hræsvelgr,” which mixes things up further and demonstrates how the duo maintains their power even when creating softer sounds. Here, the cello sound is the most naked and you really get a sense of what is going on behind the cloak of electronic noise present elsewhere. Even though things are much quieter, the track still seethes with lots of subdued energy and benefits from the same powerful instrumental alchemy heard previously on the album.
To put it simply, this is definitely one of the best drone records I’ve heard in some time. I’m excited to have heard this, but as I mentioned before, I’m really looking forward to seeing what this album will reveal to me months and even years from now. There’s a lot of magic hidden in these grooves and I can’t wait to find more of it. Mem1 seems to have known what they had on their hands, as well. Every effort went into the physical presentation of their work, as they crafted handmade sleeves to hold their clear, 150-gram vinyl gems. Did I mention that this is a limited edition, too? Don’t snooze on this one, or you’ll regret it.