Two powerful creative forces link up on this abstract yet emotional EP.
Oscar Powell takes the scaffolding of post-punk, industrial and rave, then rebuilds it into an idiosyncratic jumble of barely held-together structures. The results are devoid of nostalgia, veering between brutalism and a strange kind of beauty as they evoke a sense of vague disorientation. Wolfgang Tillmans, a noted fine-art photographer with a sideline in music, favors a sound that leans toward the deadpan yet evocative romanticism of the Neue Deutsche Welle and similar material of his youth. (In interviews, he's cited Fehlfarben as an influence.) The pair met as Tillmans was putting together a 2017 show at Tate Modern. A friendship was forged, and the six-track Spoken By The Other is the result.
The EP isn't quite what one might have expected from the partnership. It isn't paying obvious homage to the past, as some of Tillmans' previous output seems to be, nor is it deconstructing that past, as Powell is apt to do. Instead, the collaboration, with Tillmans' vocals weaving around Powell's serrated production, leads to music that's as much conceptual sound-art as song.
"Feel The Night" is perhaps the most traditionally structured of the EP's cuts. A shuddering tone delineates an almost hymnal melody, encasing Tillmans' sung-spoken lyrics, delivered as an impassive nursery rhyme, in a framework that's simultaneously harsh and heavenly. "Tone Me" commences with a frayed-wire hum, a series of plucked-rubber-band tones joining in to provide arrhythmic accompaniment. Three minutes in, Tillmans repeatedly intones the track's title. He's said that the lyrics refer to gym culture, though it could be an oblique plea for human connection.
On "Rebuilding The Future," a series of repeated loops—consisting of vocal blips, clipped thrums and what sounds like table-top thumping—are interrupted as Tillmans forcefully exclaims, "rebuilding the future, rebuilding the now." That voice, this time registering as a religious chant of sorts, again takes center stage on "Speak Out." Here, a heavily processed incantation floats above a faintly shimmering synth, both subsumed midway through by an ominously immersive drone. It could be a warning against letting one's voice be silenced. It could also mean something else entirely.
Despite their often abstracted nature, Spoken By The Other's tracks are relatively simple in construction, certainly more so than much of Powell's denser material. But their economy belies their impact. They feel like a sequence of enigmatic missives, their meaning often cryptic but awash with emotion.
Tracklist01. Feel The Night
02. Tone Me
04. Speak Out (Version)
05. Rebuilding the Future