Lately, I’ve been grappling this self-mythologizing “what came first, the music or the misery?”question with the torrents and torrents of apocalyptic electronic music I’ve been consuming over the past few years. Am I obsessed with feeling like the world’s ending because I’m listening to all this jittery and unsettling music? Or am I just gravitating toward the harrowing stuff because it’s where my head’s at? I have no clue! But either way I’ve been taking strange comfort in sounds like those offered by the Berlin duo Driftmachine, people who paint bleak landscapes with blipping and flashing banks of unfamiliar electronics—it’s the only soundtrack that makes sense in a world that doesn’t.
Today, Driftmachine are sharing a new record Shunter, which is both their fifth release in the last five years and their first that dives headlong into the dewy darkness that their work has often hinted at. Across seven instrumental pieces, they utilize familiar materials—interlocking synth lines and ghostly melodies—to craft spacious and anxious pieces that rumble with the hallucinatory plodding energy of dub, but without any of the general posi vibes. By and large this is music of stark and alien architechture, occasionally interuppted by thudding bass explorations (“Shift III”) or plinking abstractions (“Congé”).
There is little relief, but in that, paradoxically, I find some relief. Losing myself in a generally anxious and miserable piece of music, I start to see some of its hidden colors. When the overall canvas is grey, your eyes are drawn toward anything that breaks that up. Two bleak synth washes overlapping in just the right way can feel romantic and comforting in this weird and backwards way. Sometimes to find shelter from the storm, you have to push onwards to the eye.
Anyway, Shunter is very special and it’s out on Umor Rex on June 15, but you can listen to the whole thing here today.