Exhaling Ammonia

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The music of Figure, aka guitarist Brannon Hungness (Oblivion Ensemble, also of Glenn Branca and Virgil Moorefield's downtown-NYC projects), stands in a niche of its own. It borrows from industrial, gothic, psychedelic, and noise idioms to form an engaging whole. Ambient in its softer moments, harsh at its worst, Exhaling Ammonia is always disquieting. An atmosphere of religion, either institutionalized or personal, reigns over the project, although the signs of this presence are not so easy to detect. It has to do with the exacerbated emotions -- the pathos -- in the music. It brings forth images of worship, ritual, cult, all enhanced by the gothic-industrial relents of the rhythm tracks and some of the melodies (in "Crucifixion" and "Wash," for instance). "D" introduces strummed guitar to create a pastoral mood, but it is only the eye of the storm, a reassuring pause before things resume their descent into the dark pits of the human psyche. The tension between ambient and discomfort is what drives the album forward. Figure's vocal stint in "Rose of Our Lips" fails to convince -- too caricature of '80s gothic rock -- but otherwise this is a very fine album, the kind that refuses simplistic categorization but still manages to produce a coherent picture.