With a burst of fuzz like a balloon deflating, “Tonal Whiplash” springs into life. Clatter and crumble sits atop hard bass thrum; a mobile phone bleeps over quiet chugging; a detuned hum, flanked by flickers of static, trades blows with low rumble, grungy bass, and sparks of electricity. The muffled, unintelligible voices of ‘Materia Prima’ are the only sounds that can be traced back to an identifiable source. The speakers spit out noise from all angles, from across the audible pitch spectrum, and at all volumes, from the quietly mysterious glimmers in the middle of ‘Tea Cube’ to the thunderous, room-shaking noise towards the end of ‘Sopa Coada’.
“Tonal Whiplash” is full of sounds mangled well beyond recognition or easy placement within a conventional musical framework. Yet rhythm and structure are an important element in the album’s appeal. There are explicitly rhythmic taps and clicks and tone patterns, and substantial outpourings of noise that seem to have no rhythmic logic to them at all; but then there are also those more ambiguous passages, like the wet clatter and bursts of noise at the start of ‘Seitan Core’, that seem to imply rhythm without beating it out exactly — it often feels appropriate to speak of a certain pace, of speeding up and slowing down, even in the absence of a clear pulse.
It’s in these grey moments, where the music seems to suggest a certain form without congealing or losing its chaotic churning mudslide energy, that “Tonal Whiplash” is at its most impressive. Presenting rough, dense sounds at a range of quiet volumes also injects an element of uncertainty — is that a really quiet sound, or a really loud one heard from far away? It’s been a little while since we last heard from Gianluca Favaron and Ennio Mazzon under their Zbeen guise, but this short, punchy, yet dynamically diverse album marks a welcome return for the duo.