07.10.2011, Words by Charlie Jones

Harbored Mantras

I watched a few of those Steve Jobs keynotes yesterday, and it was interesting that the guy spent so long talking about innovation, when so many people have used his computers to basically make music that sounds totally cosy and old-fashioned. Those far wiser and even moanier than myself have made a similar argument at far greater length, but it was kind of interesting to contrast the vision and bravery of technician with the bored complacency of so many artists of the last decade.

Anyhonks, it’s ironic that San Francisco duo Water Borders’ album was brought forward to ship next week, I suppose. Amitai Heller and Loric Sih have made a record that sounds self-consciously, modernist-hard and takes the industrial folk template and combines it with the rhythmic structure and sense of space of modern bass music.

Water Borders – Harbored Mantras by WeGetPress

It’s an interesting synergy. There’s a bracing sense of newness here, newness for the sake of newness, and an agressive edge so unreconstructed it actually sounds old-fashioned, close in intent to the violently oppositional stance of Gristle or Neubaten, with the threatening sonics of Tread On Them or What WiWant building a bracing sense of sheer otherness. But othernesss has been been done before – it’s their use of the tectonic delicacy of Digital Mystikz on songs like Bad Ethos or the brutal shimmer of Surgeon that make songs like Waldonpond.com so enlivening.

The earth-shattered bass here is used with skill, though – rather than a spot-the-influences game, it’s a use of sheer sonic weight to make everything sound just so bloody epic, eternal even, as though you’re listening to the wailing of the Etruscan ghosts, or something similar. Often they are spoken about as a terrifying band, but it’s actually a real treat to hear something so self-consciously uneasy, in these days of preset-step and weak ambient music when everything sounds so bloody palatable. While is an unnerving listen, its sense of massiveness makes you listen in for the melodies that are there, below the rumbles.

There’s been many nods at industrial from the territory of modern bass, but the notable thing about ‘Harbored Mantras’ is its relation to the folk traditions underlying the music of Current 93, Scott Walker, Death In June or Nurse With Wound. As in, melody is present and listening to it is an enjoyable experience: like many things on Tri Angle, Water Borders is more of a radical retuning of pop music, than a departure from it, and for Water Borders, bass is not so fetishised that melody or song structure are forgotten. This balancing act between the thrill of the new and the satisfaction of the old, is ultimately, is what makes ‘Harbored Mantras’ such a fulfilling listen.


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