ANTI- Records, November 2022
BY ANDREW LUTHRINGER
Keyboardist Antoine Martel and drummer Bobby Granfelt had a busy 2022. Their eclectic groove ensemble High Pulp released a superb album, Pursuit of Ends, and a mere two months later, while navigating an extensive touring schedule, the collaborators dropped another riveting full-length, from their ear-bending experimental duo sunking, entitled SMUG.
Compared to the funky rhythmic collectivism and live performance orientation of High Pulp, sunking operates in a more abstract, intimate sonic realm, better attuned to a headphone listening experience than a sweaty nightclub party. sunking is nimble in approach and widely varied in sonic texture, and Martel and Granfelt explore offbeat aural directions and musical landscapes that delineate the flip side of a musical coin for the two longtime collaborators. There’s a strong DIY collage aesthetic at play on SMUG, as murky, sampled soundscapes bump up against chopped drum atmospheres and electronic textures—it’s hard to tell where the boundaries are between improvisation and written forms, and between live instruments and found sounds. There are some discernible jazz roots in sunking’s music, and guest High Pulp instrumentalists like Victory Nguyen and Andrew Morrill on saxophones and Rob Homan on keyboards provide an earthly grounding to some of the abstraction, but a mood of mystery and aural disorientation in the mix provides a haunting edge to the music.
Martel and Granfelt are working in a short song format on SMUG—the album features 19 tracks, most clocking in at under two minutes. It’s a structure akin to hip-hop beat tapes and the work of electronic producer experimentalists, and rather than hearing the album as a collection of short songs, SMUG succeeds as a continuous soundtrack, akin to a cinematic sound experience with its own flow and continuity. The only peril is that some of the pieces, if heard in isolation, can sound like excerpts from larger wholes, and occasionally the silence at the end of some tracks (as much as 10 seconds) seems overly long, so rather than running together as a tight mix, the gaps can slightly interrupt the trance state and continuity.
That said, the music on SMUG is compelling and evocative, with many high points, such as “…Anxiiety,” with chopped and delayed swirling pianos offset by asymmetrical drum grooves and an ominous atmospheric drone floating across the background. “Isles in the Sky” journeys through the chaos of a distorted tunnel of noise before settling into an ambient cloud of Bowie-esque vocal abstraction from guest Cyanide Haiku.
The most visceral pleasures of SMUG are the atmospheric sounds and environments occupying the outer edges of the soundscape, creating an air of menace and unease to the sonic proceedings. SMUG is deep listening for adventurous music fans.