Josh Lay - Rotted Afterlife [Urashima Records - 2011]Simplicity, when deployed well, is always a winner; and the packaging for this album on Urashima speaks volumes for that approach. The LP sleeves are decorated minimally, with monochrome, silver on black prints; whilst the stark insert has the barest of information, underneath a photo of a snow-covered church. There are four tracks here from Josh Lay, over about half an hour.
The record begins with the title track, a short little piece which is built around a recording of a religious call and response; we hear female voices intoning christian prayers - though, beyond this, I’m quite ignorant. Weaving around this group dialogue are dirty electronic lines, zig-zagging and filtering under the words. These lines achieve very shrill tones, but never overwhelm the prayers - its an effective introduction to the other three tracks.
For all the morbid and sepulchral imagery of the album, the second piece - “Dust To Dust” - actually conjures up quite a different image in my mind: the jungle. It begins with a lo-fi loop that has the cadence of a breath, speeded up; with electronic drones swooping behind and over. An organ-like sound (that also has ambient connotations, to my ear) sings over this bubbling foundation, but its
made to resonate just on the threshold of harshness. Once the track is in full flow, we find lots of small elements acting quite autonomously; sounds crawl, chirrup and whimper close to death - but Lay retains an open sound field. The whole creation brings forth the sounds of an alien jungle, as imagined by 1950s electronic music explorers. Its unsettling, but without using any overt signifiers of eeriness. Its only in the latter stages that some larger beast appears, tearing through the undergrowth and dominating the track.
Flipping over to the second side, and “Soul Damage” seems to pick up where side A finished; with shrill, heat haze drones and crawling sounds. These drift along, until a series of large reverberating crashes enter, like rolls of thunder. Despite this abrasive element, the track has quite a dreamy feel; with a background of synth lines that echo and swoop downwards. This atmosphere is only strengthened by the appearance of a more structured synth part, near the end of the piece; which sets a sombre, haunting tone.
“A Gathering Of Flies” closes the album, and continues in much the same vein as the previous three tracks. It combines echoing guitar pings and feedback, muffled howling and scraping and, of course, the sound of flies. One unexpected element is a meandering, sad melody;
which chimes through the piece like a music box. It evokes an innocent, melancholic air; amidst the somewhat “grubby” atmosphere of the track (indeed, the entire album).
Whilst “Rotted Afterlife” is far from being a drone album, the tracks nevertheless have the same feel; being predominantly drifting, unhurried sound environments, with little overt development or change.Martin P
In some sections, there’s almost the sense of listening to field recordings; with the notion of eavesdropping on a static, evolving ambiance. The overall sound is very layered, and quite dirty and grubby; without necessarily being noisy, as such. Though one curious detail is Lay’s sparing use of clean, digital sounds; which sit in the tracks quite harmoniously - despite some of them even being “spacey”. Overall, this is an album with lots of layers and dark corners to explore, which rewards repeated listens.