Tuesday, 8 June 2010

10-20 - Isthmus [Highpoint Lowlife]

There’s a lot of love for the Highpoint Lowlife label round this way – they've been responsible for releasing some of my favourite records of the last twelve months, including TVO's stunning The Starry Wisdom EP and Production Unit's lovely new Ghost Tracks. They’ve can also take credit for putting out 10-20’s unique and strikingly prolific body of work over the past year or so. In the wake of the release of his excellent and continually intriguing self-titled debut – ‘Arcadeagle’ in particular has barely left my stereo since it first arrived here – he has put together no less than four EPs as part of his Landforms series. In an appropriate feat of naming, or an even more impressive feat of suggestive projection, each has perfectly matched its title, from Island’s humid density to the turbid and peculiarly opaque depths of Lake. They’ve worked well as a series, each showcasing a different slant to his sound and pulling away from the comfortably coherent feel of the album to explore stranger, more abstract territories.

So after the chilly soundscaping of Mountain it’s a welcome surprise that the final installment in the series shows 10-20 at his most direct and rhythmically straightforward. Of course, anyone familiar with his previous work will be well aware that even at their most beat-driven his tracks tend towards entropy, gradually peeling away and cracking at the seams to reveal tiny glimpses of the chaos that lies just beneath. Isthmus opens, in pleasingly cyclical fashion, with ‘Halogen’s reprise of the hip-hop influenced beat from Island’s ‘Hallow’, but stripped clean of that track’s tropical melody it’s an altogether more menacing beast. Carried along by a razor-edged synthline, it hints at a darkness that’s never fully explored, leaving a peculiar sense of foreboding as each element fades to nothingness.

The manic industrial percussion and chorus of dissonant bleeps ‘n’ bass that ushers in ‘Athens’ journeys deeper still, before a resolution of sorts is found in closer ‘Zizek’. Submerged in a wash of static crackle it harks back to Lake’s desaturated gloom, once again neatly closing the circle as a reminder that all four EPs work as a whole as well as in segments. Revisiting all four in one listen, it becomes more apparent how well Landforms works as a companion piece to 10-20’s debut effort. Two great albums in a year, each by turns beautiful, beguiling and terrifyingly abrasive: not bad at all.

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