Label: Dullest Records
Matt Finney has, through sheer hard work and determination, become something of a genre unto himself. His spoken word style is distinctive, both in its delivery – straight-forward, matter-of-fact, recounted almost without emotion at times – and also its subject matter which is, invariably, dealing with the bleaker parts of life. Such is the case with Clawing, which also features Austin Gaines and Jeff McLeod, and their debut release Spectral Estate. Over the course of forty minutes, the trio craft a record that is never anything less than unsettling, with its industrial/dark ambient soundscapes shifting and morphing in disturbing fashion, as if they were an expression of broken lives trying to piece themselves back together without success, all topped off with Matt’s spoken words. It’s horrific in its bleakness, but also deeply impressive and hard to look away from.
It would be easy to focus on the spoken word sections of Spectral Estate, given that they offer the most (relatively speaking) accessible sections of the album; despite their tales of pain and misery, they are the aspect of the album that is easiest to get a grip on, and to lure the listener in. Yet the real strength of Clawing is in the soundscapes created, which more often than not sound utterly wrong in their delivery. The swirling, restless clicks and drones of opener ‘Mythology’, for example, come across like the desperate attempts of some cross-dimensional intelligence to make contact through the stars; whilst ‘Gourds’ feels like the wounded scream of a dying machine. The subtle, gentle guitar that accompanies such horrific sounds only makes them even more uncomfortable, the sense of contrast serving to emphasize just how damaged these sounds are.
There’s often an oppressive quality to Spectral Estate, with the music combining with the spoken words to produce a sense of feeling trapped, whether that be physically or mentally, reliving past horrors. This feeling persists even during the more spacious tracks, such as ‘A Clearing’, where the drones create an illusion of open space; and yet the track feels all the more horrific for that, as if the openness alluded to is not so much a sense of freedom, but of feeling lost and bereft of all navigational landmarks. It’s terrifyingly effective, maintaining the overall mood and feel of the album whilst ensuring it never sticks to one technique or trick to achieve its aims.
All of which makes Spectral Estate a record that is as addictive as it is uncomfortable; an album that is simultaneously off-putting in its depictions of pain and misery, but also hard to look away from such is the quality and talent on display from all involved. The feeling of narrative provided by Matt’s spoken word sections adds to both of these feelings, and helps ensure that Spectral Estate, even at its most sonically adventurous and questing, feels like an album that moves with direction and purpose (something that many other drone and dark ambient-based records fail to do). There is something within the album that demands that you challenge and face up to it, to overcome the horrors it will force you to endure. It is a difficult task – as it should be – but one that is deeply rewarding, and by the end of the record, you may not feel better; but, deep down, something within you will be stronger.