Fantasy Deluxe (FNTSY21), 2016
Lost Signal, the new album by Western Digital, is twelve minutes long.
Yes, you read correctly: the entire ten-track album totals twelve minutes. The longest track, “beyond,” lasts all of one minute and fifty-four seconds.
But this should not deter you from it. I was certainly skeptical going in. Little did I anticipate that Lost Signal would soon reveal itself as one of the most mysterious and unusual pieces of audio I’ve heard in some time. The track titles – “calling,” “m shaped cave,” “dune,” “appear” – provide curious hints without divulging their meaning too easily. There’s plenty of room for interpretation; while Western Digital has provided an outline, it’s one of the sparsest I’ve ever encountered. It’s the audio equivalent of the infamous video clip from the film Ringu – haunting, deeply hypnotic, and full of obscure, linked symbolism.
Lost Signal is thick with mystique. There’s something profoundly alien at work during its twelve minutes. Each moment is draped in a blanket of muffled static and down-tuned distortion; Western Digital has used this technique before, most notably in the broken-transmission masterpiece Wasted Digital, but with Lost Signal, all sampled source material has been removed, leaving behind a surreal bed of warped bizarreness that casts its brief yet potent spell on one’s imagination. I find myself returning to Lost Signal time and again, hoping to detect some minute hint in the dense fog of swirling tones, eerie snippets of melody, and embedded loops. Or, if nothing else, I carry on formulating my own explanations. I can’t help but search for patterns. Considered from this perspective, Western Digital has smoothly delved into one of the most curious parts of the human psyche – the ingrained search for meaning.
I wonder if Lost Signal would be a better album if it was longer, or if its mysteries were explained in a clearer manner. Somehow, I doubt it. There are connections here, tenuous as they may seem, but that’s where the cooperative experience comes in; to develop those bridges however the listener chooses. When looped, Lost Signal is easily as immersive as most longform pieces, though I find myself wishing the tracks bled into each other rather than having traditional breaks in between. Given the effectiveness of the album overall, however, this is a negligible factor.
Lost Signal is exactly what it is described to be: a collection of scattered and related sonic fragments. Think of it as a (very) stripped-down version of Cities Last Broadcast’s The Cancelled Earth – the remnants of something long-forgotten, the nature of which we can only guess at. It’s amazing to realize that a twelve-minute album is one of the best and most interesting works of experimental conceptual ambient I’ve heard in quite a while.