Director's cut version of a review published in The Wire #345 (November 2012)
Quarter Turns Over A Living Line
Blackest Ever Black CD/2xLP/DL
If it feels difficult to praise Raime's debut album unreservedly, it's partially due to a mistrust of the frankly adolescent impulse to align Importance and Profundity with sombreness or outright despair. It's also out of concern for readers' emotional equilibrium. In a moment when electronic music's libidinal economy is one of exquisite overload and frenetic sensuality (Rustie, HudMo, Flying Lotus, Night Slugs' whole roster) it seems almost callous to recommend something so sparse, so fatalistic, so blackly compelling. But then it's difficult not to think that it forms the other side of the coin to that aesthetic: it is, in that sense, just as necessary, sensually and historically. Its pleasures are those of the violent hollowing-out of dancefloor forms, of the exhaustion that waits at the end of the night.
The album arrives loaded with both anticipation and context. One of the attractive things about the first Raime 12”s and mixes was their opacity: minimal sleeves, gnomic titles, no physical presence, a return almost to the jungle records that, we would later learn, Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead loved. Soon enough the fog around them, and around Blackest Ever Black, the label that has put out all their releases to date, cleared: they did interviews, gigs; we learned that FACT editor Kiran Sande runs the label, and of its connection to Downwards, Sandwell District and the more brutal end of British Techno. It became clear, in fact, just how carefully 'curated' (that dreaded term!) both act and label were – from mixes of ultra-obscure European post-punk and a website dotted with grand guignol graphics that clicked through to Industrial and rave tunes, to an exquisitely-designed catalogue that combined all of these with Noise and archival soundtrack releases.
The relevance of all this to Quarter Turns Over A Living Line itself is questionable. It feels as fully-formed and autonomous as those first records; far from the smug flaunting of taste that so often takes itself for formal innovation now, it feels like the ruination, the explosion, of a sonic language, its dissipation into particles until all that's left is a choking, noxious cloud. Like the shape of a Rorschach blot, any number of influences or resonances can be traced out of it, but none convincingly names it; more than that, any other music belongs to a comforting past that's out of reach to the devastated present it inhabits. If any echo convinces at all, it's with Shackleton's re-sculpting of dubstep as a thing of negative space and primal dread. (They even share some tropes: quasi-tribal hand percussion, vocal fragments blurred almost into non-existence.) To listen is to confront it as sound that gives no signposts: opener “Passed Over Trail” begins with a huge thrum of bass noise, ghosted by mid-range ebbs, squalls and treble arcs like stifled screams, less a track than an atmosphere that seems like it could go on interminably. When the tripping percussion of “The Last Foundry”, a version of “This Foundry” from their debut EP in 2010, enters, it feels like regaining solid ground momentarily; but rather than being joined by the expected half-step snare, it's left to sharp and melancholy pads and suppurating bass tones. When the snare finally lands more than a minute in, it's huge and hollow as any doom metal hit, as if the drummer had slumped on the kit; when it repeats it seems uncanny, a motion suspended between life and a dwindling into stillness.
The duo have a virtuosic sense of composition, of how to organise both large elements (bass tremors, percussion hits) and spaces, and micrological details, like negatives of darkside jungle tunes. The tracks benefit immensely from high volume: they constitute themselves as forcefields of tension between starkly delineated fragments. Individual gestures nag like scraps from faltering memory, links to a physical reality now wholly alienated – the scrape of guitar-strings on “Your Cast Will Tire”, the thump of toms on “Exist In The Repeat of Practice”. “The Walker In Blast And Bottle” takes the venerable video-game bleep from “Planet Rock” and turns it into a brittle siren, the barely-holding centre of a construct of muffled drums, juddering noise that substitutes for bass and a choir of synths that call to mind nothing but the end of Godspeed You Black Emperor's “Antennas To Heaven”. “Your Cast Will Tire” shows how subtle their construction is, its astute uses of reverb, syncopation and space – echoing fretscrapes and bass-drum punctured by dry hits like the “fell sergeant, death” knocking – establishing a beautiful webbed architecture of resonances. The rhythm is frequently close to a flatline, every heave of percussion effortful, its logic one of resignation, as each pulse, its rise and fall, pulls you further down a path with no end.
Where a lot of what Ryan Diduck, in a recent piece for The Quietus, has tagged as “the new bleak” is in certain ways quite soothing – blurred, drugged-out, bleakly soporific – Raime's work, alternately crystalline and amorphous, provides, if any, a very cold comfort. The raw strings that gird “The Dimming Of Road And Rights” – hard not to connect that title with the entropic loss of all good things most of Europe is currently experiencing under the rubric of 'austerity' – indicate the cold, almost cosmic depths and spaces of this music, the only thing to get lost in beside the hurt, cathartic joy beside a percussion track that feels like nothing less than the death-drive, frustrated. Having come this far, it's difficult not to feel that it's a brilliant dead-end for the project: what, after all, could they do from here, but refine the formula, go further out into the ruins? In this, it seems, Quarter Turns... dramatises a more general situation. Raime are now identifiable auteurs, tagged with identifiable influences. The sheltering shadows of obscurity in which their work gestated are rare in an economy demanding the constant turnover of novelty. In zeroing in on the darkness at the heart of that frenzy of languages, the intimation of last things in a crisis-ridden culture, they've made something deeply necessary.