Through the Lines

Offthesky had a busy 2012, putting out at least five releases including one of his best albums, The Lowern Decay, and two stellar collaborations with Radere and Man Watching the Stars. Through the Lines is his swansong for the year, a short, two-track single with two remixes, released last month.

The pieces began as recordings of a live performance, and show all the hallmarks of experimental improvisation. The simple drone that begins the title track is steadily embellished – a distant snap here, a wave of higher pitched ambience there, a steady beat like the muffled steps of a jogger. As with much Offthesky material, the initial pleasantness is slowly – at times almost imperceptibly – darkened and unsettled. Around two minutes in the original drone fades away, replaced by a spacier, wobbling tone, its sheen too clinical to be quite comfortable. Low bellows begin to punctuate the track, like the dying gasps of the ubiquitous rumble from Hans Zimmer’s Inception score. The footstep rhythm begins to dissemble, less actual steps and more echoes of those steps delayed.

The mood deepens further on “Bleeds Dynamic”, although the continuity between tracks makes the change hard to pinpoint. A lone operatic voice croons over splatters of metallic, industrial percussion and sparse drones that ebb and fade as if afraid to peak, too timid to reach any sustained volume. Fear has often been part of Offthesky’s sound, and Through the Lines sees a brief return to that after some of his recent work – the elegiac, organic collaboration with Man Watching the Stars, for example. Through the Lines is certainly not organic. The pieces may grow and develop, but it is a factory growth, full of scratches and clangs and electronic static.

The two remixes that close the single do not take the titles of the two Offthesky tracks, although they use the same material. “Flux and Go”, by ZS highlights the inconstancy and uncertainty from “Bleeds Dynamic”. It stretches the sparse ambience even further, brings out a wail of saxophone (by Morgan Packard) to join the voice in its sporadic cry of unspecified anxiety. Even the late incorporation of a smothered beat only serves to highlight the fractured nature of the track.

The final remix by Juxta Phona (another of Jason Corder’s aliases) twists the source material into a subterranean dub haze. Static is manipulated into rhythm, the bass beat throbs and pulls almost as reluctantly as the drone in “Bleeds Dynamic”. Noise drips like water from a cave ceiling through the dank, heavy atmosphere. Remixes, as this single shows, need not be beholden to their original tracks. Both here create something essentially new, as their different titles suggest, treating Offthesky’s recordings with creativity. If anything, the Juxta Phona piece is the best on offer.

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