Anyone approaching the latest offering by Bratislava based sonic explorer Vrtacky Po Desate Hodine, expecting a soothing journey into the land of Nod, will face a rude awakening. While the album was composed to celebrate the birth of daughter Stela, Lullabies does not aim to create a point of repose by lulling the listener into a false sense of security. The album may start off in suitably adumbral manner with sparkling droplets of aural tones gently weaving an enveloping blanket of shimmering tones, but it soon acquires a progressively darker tinge. The sonic textures become increasingly grittier, as befits Lubomir Panak’s moniker, which translates from the Slovak as “Drilling after 10 o’clock”.
Lullabies can sometimes be unsettling like fairytales, even when the message gets coated in a high-pitched voice designed to have a soothing effect. I have a friend whose mother used to sing her words to the effect that is she didn’t fall asleep, she would die, (her mother that is), which paralised her with fear and induced an unwelcome sense of responsibility.
While there is nothing intrinsically disturbing in Panak’s work, this is no nighttime music à la Max Richter, whose recent Sleep opus detailed how our lives are accelerating a need for a place to rest. Richter’s celebrated album worked as a manifesto for a slower pace of existence by creating an island of tranquillity far from the madding crowd. Vrtacky Po Desate Hodine, on the other hand, rather than indulging in nocturnal musing, investigates the type of household hum and white noise that echoes the sound of a mother’s blood flow in the womb.
The album artwork by Chaosdroid, a talented musician in her own right, reflects the intricate patterns that Panak constructs over the course of eight tracks. Sombre drones become replete with whooshing and crackling, but there’s always enough space to allow for controlled breathing with a carefully balanced and measured out melodic quality. In line with Vrtacky Po Desate Hodine’s previous output, beats tentatively manoeuvre their way into the proceedings giving a hypnotic quality to the music. Having not tried it on an infant, I cannot say whether the album works in its intended purpose. On me it had the opposite effect, stimulating my senses. Lullabies is an engaging work by a musician seemingly happy to shed his angrier, nosier and glitchier skin.
Lullabies is released on tape by Exitab in a limited edition of 30.