DNA Production (DNA 162), 2014
Maybe I’m in the minority, but I love it when albums and tracks have cool titles. There’s something about thrilling about a super-attractive album name that doesn’t exist when you’re faced with a list of “Untitled” tracks, even to the point of having an effect on your enjoyment. At least, I know this is the case for me.
It can work the other way too. Take, for example, the near-groan-worthy title of Exodus To The Land Of The Drone, one of a series of netlabel EPs from Red Fog. It’s the kind of title that I probably wouldn’t normally look at twice, except for two things. One, Red Fog has released EPs with magnetic titles like Zone Of Avoidance, Sculpted in Luminol, and the gloriously named Inscrutable Vapor Grid. Second, Exodus has track titles like “Castle of Condensation” and “Cinder Petals.” Now these are tracks I know I’ve just got to hear based on their titles alone.
What’s most important, however, is that Red Fog has consistently produced darn good dark-tinted drone. “Castle” is a yawning, sprawling display of grandiose drone minimalism, bold yet subtle. Red Fog is particularly adept at this type of drone: slightly layered tones work with each other in an unwavering longform style, with a few incidents of sampled details dotting the landscape. In the case of “Castle,” you get some scattered icy specks spilling across the broad swaths of drone, and some instances of bubbling water; this is how to properly title a track. I particularly like this marriage of the sonic and the imaginative, where I’m presented an outline from the artist and given the chance to expand upon it in my head. Here, I roam wide stairways and empty halls carved from melting ice, wondering at who built it and for what purpose. The translucent walls expand and contract, as if breathing. I slip into this place easily, buoyed on the back of Red Fog’s enveloping atmospheres. The experience just isn’t the same without the provided starting point.
“The Quiet Magnetar” is another example of this. The drone is simplistic, as expected, but muted – as suggested by the title. Over its sixteen minutes, the basic structure barely moves, but that’s exactly what a “quiet magnetar” would be. Red Fog often includes a series of scrapes, clicks, and other bits of noise; here, they create quite an effective sense of mystery without becoming repetitive. Once these pieces of noise fade away and the drone takes over – this is the land of the drone, remember – the track blooms into a wonderfully evocative portrait of consistent mood created and maintained by gradually and carefully controlled evolution. It’s drone at its best. Whatever the track is describing is ultimately up to the listener, but Red Fog doesn’t over-describe or under-describe what’s being presented here, and when this happens, the project is at its most effective.
The other two tracks on the EP don’t work quite as well. “Volans Disruption” and “Cinder Petals” stick to the simple-yet-effective formula of solid uncomplicated walls of steadfast drone, but don’t share the same sound-title chemistry. The added patterns of sampled glitch on these tracks are a nice change of pace, but their presence sounds a little forced. As a result, the tracks go on a bit too long; Red Fog drifts somewhere between traditional and longform ambient.
While there is certainly a place for untitled abstract sound art, Red Fog smartly doesn’t take that route. The project gains a hefty amount of identity from its imaginative sci-fi-inspired titles and corresponding fantastical sound palette, but takes measured care to allow the listener plenty of freedom to explore. Of course, you don’t have to take Red Fog’s lead, but it’s there should you want it. I hope you do, for when Red Fog peaks – both on this EP and elsewhere among the project’s releases – it’s a potently interactive listening experience of sound supporting concept. Taken at face value, the tracks are perhaps a bit long and a tad uneventful, but the draw of Red Fog is how you use the titles to shape what you hear. I mean, this is a project that has made tracks with titles such as “Doppler Sabotage” and “Forest of Diodes.” Aren’t you just a little bit intrigued?