A Gradual Decline is closer to the edge than one may initially think. The music is music of imminent collapse, its insidious strands creeping into the notation and affecting, even souring, the music of many nations, splicing itself into the fabric of culture in stealthy ways. In this record, both the ‘B’ word and the current American administration are under inspection, but environmental collapse figures high on the agenda, too. Just as scientifically relevant and accurate reports emerge on the fatalistic effects of climate change for both our species and a million others, those in a few positions of power continue to ignore and condemn the many.
A Gradual Decline raises awareness, but it also seems largely occupied by a rising anger: anger at the distortion of liberty, the cruelty of people in power, and the sickening abdication of everything decent. The sweaty brow is a feverish symptom of an abused environment, and the projectile vomiting of Trumpian politics (which beats Regan’s pea soup from The Exorcist hands down when it comes to duration and the ability to terrify), is another sign that something isn’t right. The music’s like one of those threads where the headline reads, Top 10 Photos Taken Just Before Disaster. Fear turns into hatred, and it spreads like a plague, infecting once-sane people and spilling out toxicity upon entire nations. A sorry state, for sure, and one in which a response is required. Enter CUTS, aka filmmaker and composer Anthony Tombling Jr, who responds to this crisis through music, spreading it in order to reach the masses.
Over the course of eleven tracks, CUTS breaks down his surroundings. Even when a rhythm is present – the beat usually upholding a track and providing some semblance of stability – it chooses to dig into the music, its beat a pickaxe whiplashing ice. The record uses field recordings of ice falling away from its glacier, collapsing as a result of heating. Sinking into the very fabric of the record, the field recordings push deep into a bedrock of electronic sounds and crumbling textures, becoming one with them, branding their message of illness into the heart of the music. The sound of shattering ice becomes a looping rhythm in and of itself, its erosion giving new life to the electronic music. The track ‘Time Is Not Your Friend’ adds a nebulous chord progression to the mix, swirling around cracking sheets of ice while indicating a real sense of urgency.
In that respect, A Gradual Decline becomes more than music – it’s a wake-up call.
The synths are as bold as red traffic lights, offering a warning again and again and again. A mounting pile of evidence is given to the listener, and it pleads for a 360 turnaround at the top of its electronic lungs. The slipping is glacial but inevitable. When the music gathers speed, such as on ‘Polar’, it has rage on its mind, furious at the mistreatment of the planet, its flammable frustration threatening to spill over like a can of gasoline, culminating in another oil spill. The sometimes stuttering electronics blink with the rapidity of a strobe, flashing consistent warning lights. There are serene moments, too, where edgeless chords drift in a slow-motion ballet of falling ice, but even this is a decline. The slowing down of the record works both ways. Some of the gathering urgency is lost – a diplomatic impasse as the plastic icebergs get bigger – especially in light of the other tracks being so restless, but it also gives the listener a breather. Perhaps the softer, ambient side of the music reflects the irreversible thawing of something that should remain cold and sharp, a melting that signals the coda. But at other times, the beat stutters like a barrage of artillery fire. Electronic melodies glint in the face of a December sun, the ice sweating. The elongated finale, ‘Fear Of Everything’, sums it all up. The world is fuelled by fear instead of love, ignoring and deporting instead of caring. The ending is abrupt, and while there’s an environmental tragedy, there’s a human one, too.