Review: Natural Temple – Natural Temple (Lab Rat, Oct 24)

Natural Temple’s self-titled reminds me quite favorably of some of the weirder stuff I’ve stumbled across on both Free Music Archive and Youtube—Recordings, Disk 01; Multi-Channel Analysis of Naive Doppler Simulation; Dial Up—but also has the added bonus of being just a bit more discoverable (we have all seen over and over that, when it’s done well enough in the first place, accessibility does not cheapen obscurity). This mysterious, ephemeral little release is one of only a few digital-only albums currently uploaded to the Louisiana net label Lab Rat’s page, and it’s also my favorite so far, even setting aside my affection for eponymous debuts from reclusive or otherwise anonymous artists. Each minuscule track is sparingly formed with low-fidelity digital interference like bitcrushed shortwave signals or corrupted sound files, often rendered in an unexpectedly tactile form via microscopic sound design, processing, and arrangement. It’s pointless yet still entertaining to compare these completely detached, abstracted textures to familiar real-world sound events; for example, “Underneath” could simultaneously be a reticent, hermitic extended-turntable improvisation, a close amplification of liquid sizzling on a hotplate, a proximal hydrophone voyeurization of a crowd on the boardwalk above. The artist experiments with silence and reductionism as well, paring down their already minimal sonic palette to barely more than a ghost-in-the-machine whisper on “The Signal (Long Lost),” which despite its profound artificiality somehow manages to evoke the same spectral nostalgia for nonexistent futures as the most organic of hauntological works. Looking up the barcode on the cover doesn’t answer any questions; the numbers, at least, are the EAN-13 for the eight-pack of BIC Velleda 1721 whiteboard markers. Maybe you’re supposed to chow down on them while you listen. Worked for me.