Natural Incapacity: single-minded industrial ambient noise drone with no beginning and no end

Relay for Death, Natural Incapacity, The Helens Scarsdale Agency, 2xCD HMS039 (2016)

Jim Haynes who sold me this set was right when he warned that this double CD work was not party music … though I’m sure it’ll come in handy late in the night or during the early hours of the morning when dawn is about to break and party guests need a reminder that they have to catch the train to go home. Disc 1 certainly sounds like an eternal train rumbling and travelling at brisk speed on lines that carry it all over the globe, encircling the planet continuously, in the manner of the snowpiercer in the joint Korean / Hollywood sci-fi flick of the same name. Now and then extra puffy white smoke hisses from the release of high-pressure valves and in the distant background human voices call out to one another to warn that another valve must be opened, temperature gauges must be monitored and maybe more coal must be shovelled into the mechanical beast’s ravenous hot maw. This soundtrack to one’s Industrial Revolution steampunk fantasies is constant all the way through the disc yet for all its essential sameness its details in their continuous variation ensure that Yours Truly’s attention level stays at a high level: a remarkable achievement given that this cat has a low tolerance level for anything that seems even a weeny bit monotonous.

It’s such a long piece that it even extends across a second disc longer than the first with the same po-faced attitude and intense single-minded focus. You can hardly find much more relentless and implacable industrial ambient noise drone than this massive monster. As on Disc 1, the details within this droning piece change continuously: the same occasional hissing puffs, the rhythmic churning, that sense of surging motion charging along a single path into an unknown future, above all the indifferent attitude to the humans being swept up unwillingly and helpless in this unyielding machine tsunami … it’s all there, wearing down the listener’s resistance and driving all hope for a better future away. Towards the end of Disc 2, the music begins to pause, go quiet and start up again, only to repeat the process, as if the machine powering it is running down and falling apart.

You’d be right in guessing that urban and post-industrial decay and breakdown, and accompanying environmental and chemical pollution and blight might be major themes here. The place of humans in this world is as individual cogs, all of them of equal (minuscule) value to the functioning of the gigantic machine monster that swallows them up. Despair and resignation are paramount as there is no hope of escape or remedy. The funny thing though is that the more I listen to these recordings, the more I actually find their unbending linear tenacity predictable and thereby comforting.

Relay for Death are twin sisters Rachal and Roxann Spikula who call Richmond in California home and “Natural Incapacity” is their second album as Relay for Death. Familiar eminence grise James Plotkin has mastering credit – one day I will have to review something that actually has his name on it as artist, not just way down in the fine print – and Jim Haynes designed the artwork which includes a hand-rusted metal cover that’s sure to be the talk of most parties, even parties where this album probably won’t be brought out until quite late in the night.

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