Trockeneis: 5025 AD
Baltimore experimental music has always condoned drone. But unlike rock and jazz, which seek levitation somewhere along an asymptotic two-dimensional curve approaching axes of repetition and reverberation, homegrown “Om” tones find it in the off-kilter, offhand, and just plain off. Until now. The all-acoustic Trockeneis—bowed metal men Dan Breen and Andy Hayleck, vocalist Audrey Chen, percussionist Paul Niedhardt, and dry-ice sorceress Catherine Pancake—plumbs cavernous spaces, creating something ominous in its sparse, thoughtful take on extended drone.
Its 5025 AD debut LP out on Stewart Mostofsky’s democratically esoteric Ehse imprint features five pieces, each feeling almost like an afterthought if you put it on at a normal volume level—you know, what the stereo/iPod/headphones are usually set to, enough to enjoy but not too much to annoy the neighboring co-worker/apartment dweller/public transportation rider. At such volume Trockeneis sounds like insects having a rather boring discussion. Only when you turn 5025 AD up does it reveal its ominous secrets.
The three cuts on the B-side capture the quintet in miniature. The first piece slowly oozes its tense timbres, with Breen and Hayleck’s bowed metal growling like a troll’s angry stomach. Chen’s indubitably nimble voice is set to creepshow here, her angelic tones bubbling out of a hovering murk on the second track and then quickly transmogrifying into choked, piercing notes and sotto voce screams. Pancake’s dry-ice gymnastics—at times she wiggles out muffled peals like an asthmatic aspirating from a trumpet, at others shooting high-pitched pains—tumble around Chen’s haunting voice with Niedhardt’s percussion walking with a beautifully awkward, John Cage-ian gait.
The quintet hits its spooky peak with the extended second track on the A-side, a 14-minute and change descent into organic skin-crawling. The bowed metal sustains a horror-movie anxiety with steady vibrato. Pancake and Niedhardt cast off viscous globs of sound. And Chen exhales a constant moan that sounds like a steady wind whistling through the baseboards of a farmhouse. The whole thing imperceptibly amplifies until that constant breeze intensifies into a destructive force. And then Pancake melts long-winded squeals that cause everybody to fade out slowly, ending with elusive sounds chopping out anxious rumbling like thunder from a faraway storm. You know, when you see lightning’s capillary white streaks varicose the bruised sky and you hear it a few breaths later, the time in between getting shorter and shorter, and you realize the worst is still to come.