Review: Ashcircle – Burnt Out (Minimal Resource Manipulation, Aug 13)

“Bold, Confident and Ambitious,” like many of the title phrases in the band’s subtly politically charged vocabulary, is presented with a clear sardonic bent, and yet it’s still true that the duo of Tom Macarte and Ciaran Mackle are churning out some of the boldest and most ambitious improvised music today (it sounds confident too, I suppose, in a way, but the fact is palpable confidence kind of depends on a human presence, and there is not much of that here). Dealing less in the miniature metal-plate industrial and alarm blare loops of last year’s Off the Cliff Edge and more in a new, reserved style based in raw pure tones and volatile hum extracted from cracked circuits, Burnt Out initially seems lifeless, methodically stripped of energy, and it’s only on successive listens that this central quality of the music becomes something to viscerally appreciate—the closest comparison (stylistically and experientially) I can make is the trajectory between Chris Fratesi’s Sound for Blank Disc and Red Lead. The business jargon and speechwriter buzzwords that are the closest thing we get to full conceptual lucidity pair well with the much more abstractly rendered improvisations, evoking something that’s neither anger nor despair when the crowded cells of bleeps, buzzes, and bit rot briefly resemble a ringing office phone or renegade smoke detector. The sounds at work here are so innately alien that being mostly certain about their origin—I used the exact same harmonic intervals as the ones in “Short-Term Solution” when I used to mess around with circuits—doesn’t blunt the edge of the mixture of uncanniness, tedium, and ersatz sublimity with which every Ashcircle release cuts deep.