Review: Howard Stelzer & Brendan Murray – Commuter (Humanhood Recordings, Jan 3)

The past two nights have brought the most lasting snow my city has seen so far this season, and waking up in the morning to my neighborhood blanketed in drifts of sparkling white is quite a calming experience. But there’s also a mysterious energy that pervades these winter landscapes, especially when it’s quiet outside, and the only sounds are the distant hum of cars slipping and sliding on the roads and your boots crunching on the sidewalk. Commuter is the perfect soundtrack for that lonely, frigid walk on a frozen road, all of the cars draped in fluffy white sweaters. The tape is the second official collaborative release from electronic musicians Howard Stelzer and Brendan Murray, the first being 2017’s Connector on the Helen Scarsdale Agency. The two artists paint brittle, suspenseful soundscapes using a mixture of ethereal drones and more concrete electronic sounds and recordings, the latter being the glue that holds even the 27-minute closer “Let the Children Guard What the Sires Have Won” together. Lethargic clouds of fuzz breathe in and out of “Molina,” a track that fits just right somewhere in between lackadaisical and driven and might just be the centerpiece of the tape. Commuter offers a lot regardless of how much attention and patience you pay it; inattentive background listening is rewarded almost as much as actively picking apart the countless layers carefully laid to create these compositions.