I just realized what got me so hooked on Castles. Every single track has its own life, a fundamentally different substance. Still, they are all very finished and polished to near perfection. Thought out. Even better, they all make sense together. I would call this ‘horizontal integration’. There is also vertical integration. From the smallest shaped noise and micro-patterned percussion, up to the dynamic of the album played from front to back (and the basement, as you will find out below), nebulo’s craftsmanship shows on any level. Before the specifics, hit play, then read on.
Nebulo’s Castles, released on 29, October on Hymen Records (who calls their label Hymen, anyways?) was a new artist discovery for me. Nebulo, AKA Thomas Pijols, certainly is not new to his craft. The French producer has, over the course of years, released several, stylistically highly varied and highly experimental works (as far as I could tell from interview reading and exploratory listening online). His repertoire has covered many styles that I currently find intriguing and enjoyable. This album is their grand synthesis, and thus an automatic like for me. However, each of these styles is close to inaccessible to the general listener, I believe – but Castles pulls off the trick to package them more generally digestible, without watering any of it down.
ORPHX style harsh dance/industrial noise (ORPHX by themselves are already ingenious genre-breakers) shine through on many corners. Though, where ORPHX give themselves into blissful abandon, Castles always reserves a life line back to a lighter, more rational and controlled place.
There is also massive, massive use of synthesizer. One great recent example of synth in purist form is Norwell’s Harmonia on box records. Harmonia sounds like a good album created from an obsession with a device and an ultimately rigid stylistic frame of reference. Castles non-dogmatically utilizes the same device with impressive efficacy and admirable integration with more contemporary, multi-layered noise surfaces, peppered, punchy beats, and unapologetically dynamic song structures.
One reason this review took as long as it did is the waiting time for the vinyl to arrive from the ant-zen mail order (nothing exceptionally long for trans-atlantic shipping). Let me say that it was worth it. The LP arrives in a stylish gray-black sleeve with custom-made stamps (yes, these things we used to send letters), bearing the floor layout of – you guessed it – castles. Great detail, makes me wonder if someone else now has other floorplans, as it really seems the stamps have been ripped from a bigger sheet. Also, there is a poster, a postcard, and an MP3 download link for the album AND AN ADDITIONAL EP (called Basements) that accompanies the album release. The poster and postcard have the same intriguing floorplan theme as the front stamps, which makes me feel I have to reference the cover designer, who appears simply as ‘salt’ in the credits. The Basements EP, in nebulo’s own description, should be the counterpart of the neatly polished and well-arranged tracks on castles. Sort of a darker, deeper, more brooding under-pinning of the very minute, polished, and articulate work on Castles itself. It makes sense when you listen. The EP also contains my favorite in the whole release, Training, the very last track of it all. It is, in my opinion, achieving the most powerful, moving, and elegant synthesis of above-mentioned styles, eschews the usual clear-cut song structure in favor of a more kosmische (that’s PC for ‘Krautrock’, okay?) build-decay rolling right over you, but still pulls it all together perfectly on first listen.
Let’s sum up. With Castles, nebulo gives us a generous serving of his craftmanship, and shows no fear of mixing confrontational noise, broadsides of synth, driving dancefloor beats, and melodic lines in the mix with catchy, pop song structures. For once, I also would not be afraid playing my more extreme tastes in electronic music out to anyone who has even the least interest in well-done audio creation. For most of the styles quoted above and referenced on Castles, I usually would be.