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Pinkcourtesyphone - Indelicate Slices [Room40 - 2017]

Richard Chartier’s Pinkcourtesyphone project is now six years old and has become a reliable source for some of the best dark ambient music around. Yearly releases on vinyl or CD and distinctive pink artwork help make the project stand out from legions of producers of dull, gloaming, drone music. Indeed the highly defined aesthetic of the project is one of its enduring facets and is rooted in a very particular notion of femininity within the context of modern consumer capitalism and pharmacologically modulated states. That this feminine aesthetic is evoked by a man is of course problematic and worth examining. Also of note has been Chartier’s occasional use of Pinkcourtesyphone’s music to raise funds for transgender and LGBTQ causes. All of which is indicative of a creative depth and social engagement rarely found in the genre. Indelicate Slices follows on from 2016’s lush Taking Into Account Only A Portion Of Your Emotions and features seven tracks ranging from three minute vignettes to half hour epics.

Despite being one of Chartier's least academically inclined projects the music is still slow building and rewards patience. Album opener Romantic Threat is a seductive foyer, taking us through swells of anticipatory strings and distant drones. At only three minutes it grasps the listener with the project's characteristic sense of intrigue and mystery, leading nicely into the paranoid dreamscape of Lure/Beyond Exactly. The most minimal rhythmic reverberation frames the rise and fall of numerous microtonal and harmonic electronic sounds. As with all Pinkcourtesyphone releases the sense of space created by the use of effects and layering is key to the overall mood. These are not external spaces governed by the laws of physics but rather inner spaces adhering to a logic of psychical disturbance and opiated delirium.

This distorted psychical space finds its corollary in the extended running time of some of these compositions. The longest here, Minimumluxuryoverdose is twenty-five minutes of glowering drones and subtle concrete interventions ranging from lightly scraped strings to vinyl static. At the heart of it all is a deep throbbing bass drone, not oppressive in itself, redolent perhaps of that low noise we hear in especially quiet places, and which emanates from our own circulatory system. The subject of this music is alone, listening to the sounds in their own head. What is being drawn out here by this extended length and intense focus on small sounds is perhaps the sense of time itself, of unending desire and anticipation, amplified by the pharmacologically neutered minds of the project's fictional subjects. Luxury from the Latin luxus denotes both excess (principally of sensual pleasure) and a corresponding idleness from public affairs and intellectual pursuits. All of the feminine characters evoked by Chartier's project exist in states of permanent luxuria; one which the modern iteration associates as much with constant voluptuousness (think pop-stars and celebs) as idleness.

This sense of voluptuousness, filtered through altered states, appears time and again on Pinkcourtesyphone records. On Above Chandeliers a hint of tinkling piano melody is evoked only to be locked into a paranoid loop, as doomy bell like tones ring out and distant industrial sounds negate any possible sense of repose. The altered psychical states amid endless voluptuous luxury which this music suggests are as far away from bliss, or even intoxicated abandon as you could imagine. These spaces are filled with neurotic, paranoid and impotent feelings. When Chartier does deploy a more conventional instrumental phrase (usually orchestral) it's warped into a grotesque form; slowed down, detuned and looped, becoming another signifier of mental collapse.

The album's closing piece is appropriately titled In voluptuous monochrome and again stages the seemingly paradoxical combination of luxury and drawn-out paranoia. Here the tonal elements do almost all of the work, deprived of even the smallest external reference or conventional sound. It's also the piece that most harkens towards Chartier's material under his own name. A sense of existential dread hangs over the these slowly modulating drones and textural flourishes. It is a monochrome, but not a smooth one. There are the most subtle of chimes, static and minimal repetitious elements that jostle in the background, though nothing that even hints at rising to the level of rhythm. If these piece soundtrack something like the pharmacologically modified mind of contemporary consumerism, then the featureless, dark void of this final piece can only interpreted as the result of an overdose; the final few minutes before coma.

The overall aesthetic undoubtedly owes a lot to the universe of David Lynch; in particular the notion of the "feminine depressive"; the Laura Palmers and Dorothy Vallens of this world suffering/enjoying in a deeply ambivalent psychosexual state of near collapse. The darkness of Pinkcourtesyphone's music and themes stand in stark opposition to the aesthetic of their record covers; all pink and radiant with untamed life. Yet, when you consider the content of those covers - from the mannequins of debut Foley, Folly, Folio and follow-up Elegant and detached , to the foreboding abstract spaces of A Ravishment of Mirror and Sentimental Something you begin to realise that what is being recorded here isn't life or its excess, but rather what is un-dead in the life of contemporary capitalism; lives reduced to the unceasing demand for sensation and accumulation. In other words, desire itself, purified of negativity, divested of any object or meaning and simply expanding endlessly across the ruined landscapes of feminine subjectivity. Dark and very prescient stuff.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Duncan Simpson
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