Rapoon - My Life As A Ghost [Zoharum - 2017]Today I have the pleasure of reviewing the 2017 Zoharum re-issue of a Rapoon album I had never previously listened to, 2004's My Life As A Ghost. The original version of this album was a single CD, expanded here to include another disk of material remixed from the original source recordings.
The initial piece "Adrift" is not Rapoon's usual ambient loop collage, prominently featuring a crisp breakbeat. I've heard Rapoon songs with beats before, but certainly they are in the minority. Personally, I can tell he is primarily an ambient musician by the way the beat is used: there are no other rhythmic elements synced with the beat to compliment or accent it, rather an imprecise drift of impromptu elements. The effect is not unlike other ambient esoteric soundscape artists' experimentations with breakbeat, such as Nurse With Wound's "Rock N Roll Station" or Nocturnal Emissions' "Collateral Salvage".
The album as a whole continues this greater emphasis on drum machine rhythms, though mostly they have an understated IDM 'microbeat' character, rather than bold breaks. "Neyyatt" is a tribal drum workout not unlike vintage Muslimgauze, and "Terrain Sounds" includes a spiralling of clicks and pops, creating a curious contradiction by using rapidfire notes to keep a low, simmering energy level. IDM was among the dominant forms of electronic music in 2004, so it makes sense he would have experimented in this way at that time.
There are a number of spoken voices which emerge throughout the album. An excerpt from Joe Frank's "In the Middle of Nowhere" has central focus in the opener, a monologue about the moral degeneration of society, warning of the evils of drugs, describing a horde of lawless young people running amok. It is presented with obvious irony, considering Storey's left-leaning belief system. How interesting that young people, drug users and others on the opposite side of this conversative leaning rant would feel the same fear of our society's moral degeneration, this gradual slide into chaos.
A mechanized "text-to-speech" voice is used on a number of occasions, thankfully not to read any kind of lengthy text (a pet peeve of mine). Appearing here and there to utter a sentence or two, this voice successfully illustrates a feeling of emotional disconnection and paranoia.
Pieces like "The Sky Was Blue" and "Terrain Sounds" are classic Rapoon: heavily filtered, chopped and re-arranged clips of voice, rushing air, synthesizer and melodic instruments. Hand drums, which dominate his first few albums, are mostly absent.
The oddest, though not necessarily most successful piece is closer "Tell Charlene", an evil murky 4/4 at a high enough BPM that it could be hardcore techno, enshrouded with samples of a horn chorale. I'm left rather confused at its directionlessness, unsure whether to feel the druggy aggression of the fast beat or the spacious, sonorous beauty of the horns.
Storey most certainly has settled into a formula by this point in his career, though at least his quality has not noticeably diminished. However, I would say some of the feeling of mystery in his work has been lost. Though the ambience which made Rapoon a name is still richly pulsating through the back drop, this album contains enough worldly elements that it no longer feels like an unearthed recording of a lost civilization, as many have said about his early work (see "Vernal Crossing"). The glitchy drums could be said to be at odds with the primitivist roughness beneath it. I would not mind a new aesthetic, of course, it just doesn't feel this is as complete or cohesive a world.
In the end, while there are beats on many of the tracks, the effect is not so drastically changed from his other recordings. The beats serve mostly to lock Storey's usual sounds into a more rigid pulse, which I find distracts from its immersive quality. As a huge fan of IDM, I would say that Storey's beat programming falls short of true masters of glitch and downtempo, with a lack of variation and proper compression/EQ showing through. This is a decent Rapoon recording, but certainly not a standout to my ears.
As with many recent Rapoon re-issues, the bonus disk of remixed source material is essentially an entire new album in the same style as the main disk. The track lengths are generally longer, with 5 of the 6 exceeding 10 minutes, but maintain the same ratio of beat/ambience emphasis. Seeing as they are much longer, the tracks here are more repetitive than the main album, and the result is overly skeletal pieces which don't fully hold my attention, as they tend to repeat the same rhythm for the entirety of the length. Even if disk one is not my favorite Rapoon album, I prefer it to this.Josh Landry