REVIEW album Old Subbacultcha Old Subbacultcha

Hiss Tracts deliver a fine mess of blissful, disturbing ambience with their debut album

Old Subbacultcha

Old Subbacultcha

It's difficult to find drone music that works on an emotional level. Shortwave Nights, however manages to hit more than a few motional highs in its own gently harrowing way.


Hiss Tracts – Shortwave Nights (13/05/14 via Constellation Records)

The first release from Godspeed You! Black Emperor guitarist David Bryant and Kevin Doria under the 'Hiss Tracts' name (they previously collaborated as 'Growing'), 'Shortwave Nights' is an album of instrumental, drone-based ambient music that should appeal to anyone who has ever wondered what Godspeed would sound like if they stretched the ambient sections between their 'movements' into fully fledged songs of their own. If that idea doesn't appeal to you in any way, shape or form, then turn back now. It's your loss though. The most interesting aspect of the album and the duo themselves, is that they have flat out refused to use any kind of computer-based digital processing. As a result, what could have been little more than a copy and paste 'mood piece' actually hangs together with a surprising amount of clarity. The opening title track, for example, wouldn't sound out of place opening a Godspeed album, with mournful, yawning strings and a gently mounting tension that never quite resolves. The following 'Half-speed Addict' meanwhile, could almost have fallen off the last Boards of Canada album, with it's cyclical loops and organic atmosphere. As the distorted hum of 'Slowed Rugs' kicks in (think Sunn 0))) without the bluster) you begin to realise this is an album of two halves. We spend half of our time tripping the light fantastic with a series of layered drones and textures, and the other half being shook out of our slumber by violent dissonance. A case in point is the album's wonderful penultimate track, “Test Recording at Trembling City', which spends 5 minutes lulling us into a false sense of security before letting loose with some of the most disturbing sounds ever captured on tape. It's the sound of a bad LSD trip with a possessed orchestra in a haunted fire engine, and it might just give you a migraine. It's also brilliant. Picking out other solitary tracks seems superfluous as everything here flows so effortlessly. The only real dull note is 'Windpipe Gtrs', which seems like an afterthought, and does essentially what it says on the tin. On first listen you might be forgiven for thinking there's very little actually going on here, but this is definitely a grower and is a born headphone album. My first experience with Shortwave Nights in fact was at around 4AM on a Sunday morning following a rather messy night out. Sitting in complete solace, admiring the slowly receding darkness outside and with the volume in the cans on full blast, it really (and I'm going to hate myself for saying this) transported me somewhere else, somewhere unfamiliar and yet oddly comforting. Now obviously if you have no time or inclination for experimental music (specifically the modern musique concrete of artists such as The Asuza Plane and Stars of the Lid) then Shortwave Nights will probably sound like nothing more than a random collage of reversed loops. For those with an open mind and open ears, however, there's something genuinely absorbing to be discovered here, especially if you're pissed out of your tree and at home alone at 4AM on a Sunday morning.