James Hrabak turns the suddenly resurgent shoegaze subgenre on its heels, then shoves it out on the dance floor, with a new self-titled, beats-focused EP.
Not that it seems that way at first: “Rebirth” arrives like a descending fog bank, filled with shadow-less mystery and dim intrigue — and then, as he will throughout Slack Armada, Hrabak begins stirring in a series of ever-more complex rhythm elements. This has the effect of hurtling “Rebirth” above the clouds, without ever changing its essential ruminative feel. The juxtaposition of quiet and of boisterous activity, of contemplative thought and chest-bursting emotion is exhilarating, and a sign of some very good things to come on this four-track effort.
What he’s doing has less do with the translucent texturizing of, say, Boards of Canada or My Bloody Valentine, than it does the work of funky-weird ambient pioneer Brian Eno.
“Your Majesty” begins with a squelchy gurgle that likely brings a twinkle to the eye of any fan of Eno’s Nerve Net or, more recently, Everything That Happens. From there, Hrabak adds oceanic surges of atmospheric keyboards (shades, really, of Eno’s quieter pieces like Ambient 1: Music for Airports or, more recently, Lux — but with a flinty edge), then countermelodies and creaking robotic blurts, all to this fluttering heartbeat of a cadence. “Looper” arrives, then, like a temper tantrum of smeared electronics. Any quickly coalescing ideas about Slack Armada settling into a down-tempo stupor are blown into tiny bits of binary code.
The EP ends with a spook called “Escape Velocity,” as Hrabak enters into a humming machine of portent even as it begins to throw a rod. Faster and faster it whirs, until a propulsive beat emerges — and all of that noise, once again, becomes beautiful cacophony.