- Janus co-founder Dan DeNorch once described his collective's music as "a sound that doesn’t exist." As M.E.S.H., James Whipple is arguably that sound's leading exponent. Scythians, his debut EP for PAN, was futuristic, dark and thrilling. It's close to some of Arca's experiments with pop signifiers, but it's messier, more comfortable in its state of flux and happy to remain unresolved. Arca's work is regularly beautiful; Whipple's music, though grand and sometimes sublime, is rarely so.
On Piteous Gate, sounds grind their way forward, exploding briefly into vicious motion before snapping back towards stasis. Nothing proceeds in any single direction for long. The sounds are epic in scale, laboriously layered and built up into towering, oscillating edifices. On tracks like "Thorium" and "Epithet," rhythm leads the way; metallic stabs battling each other into a tenuous sort of coherence. Glimpses of light-footed melody appear through the fray, masked and damaged by the frantic percussion.
These more energetic tracks are exceptions to the general atmosphere. "The Black Pill" floats in desolation, before its thick cloud of reverberant noise is punctured by plucked strings, all poise and melancholy. The closing pair of tracks, "Methy Imbiß" and "Azov Seepage," are deeply rhythmic, but they don't feel driven forward by those drums. Instead, the drums become part of each track's texture, just another element of the sound design to appreciate. The record invites this kind of sensuous approach, allowing the confusing frenzy of the arrangements to disperse on repeat listens into discrete, bewitching sounds.
Whipple has said that Piteous Gate was partly inspired by the way information emerged from the uprising in Ukraine last year. Multiple feeds, none particularly definitive, appear out of a war zone, available to onlookers thousands of miles away. Televised newscasts, webcam streams, tweets, newspaper reports and videos shot on soldiers' phones—this wave of information, full of asynchronous events and conflicting narratives, is reflected in the way Whipple constructs his tracks. The album's 30 minutes unfold without a central guiding pulse. It is an unreal perspective of multiple events taking place at once, impossible to maintain without the manipulative potential of digital technology. This is the sound that doesn’t exist; it is composited, fake, knowingly constructed out of a thousand bits and pieces of information all fighting for space.
Piteous Gate focuses on questions of perception: What does it feel like to be alive in a digital age, overloaded and confused, but excited, too? What perspectives are possible now? Piteous Gate is a captivating attempt at putting those feelings into sound.
01. Piteous Gate
04. The Black Pill
05. Kritikal & X
07. Jester's Visage
08. Methy Imbiß
09. Azov Seepage