Paranoid Landscape

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"Cosmic industrial" might be the most appropriate sub-denomination for the debut album from Northern California's Subzone, masterminded by Andrew Mullen. It is as euphorically unsettling as it is dense and distorted. Paranoid Landscape is everything that its title implies: eddies of unknowable space, suspiciously dark valleys, hardscrabble expanses, and discordant skies that erupt in steely outbursts. It is covered in cragged edges and frequently leaves a metallic aftertaste in your mouth, yet the album also has an all-consuming, molten beauty. Subzone combines the most enticing attributes of industrial (the ominous lurch, waves of forbidding sound) and space rock (an alien kind of tunefulness, unearthly grandeur, a post-apocalyptic sense of time) into an amalgam that seems both spacy and corporeal at the same time, hovering somewhere between this and some other dimension but also gritty, burdened under its own great weight. Mullen's songs are epic canvases manipulated into bold, insistent sculptures, each with an incessant tinge of paranoia and foreboding. There are scant vocals on the album, and when they do appear, they are most often whispered or obscured by layers of noise, buzzes, and feedback, like muffled and gasping voices trapped under piles of wreckage or some kind of strange radio transmission accidentally overheard -- not unlike My Bloody Valentine, but harsher, designed less for beauty's sake and more for texture. The effect is both more menacing and more sublime than the music of industrial luminary Trent Reznor but, as with the music of Nine Inch Nails, gorgeous melodies emerge from the murkiness and sludge like intriguing hallucinations. It is like seeing the inebriated silhouette of the white sun punch through a heavy covering of fog. They don't offer any particular meaning that can be pinned down and aren't escapes from the jungle of sound, but they do make you want to follow them, to see where or what exactly they are compelling you toward. In that respect, Paranoid Landscape is closer to Pink Floyd or Tangerine Dream, or even Black Sabbath, than to its industrial peers. It is principally an ambient album, and an uncommonly subterranean one at that, full of analog electronica constructed out of electronic drums, samples, synthesizers, cavernous bass, and tape loops. But it is also very much an album of the 21st century instead of the soundtrack to a head trip, although it is that to a certain extent as well. Like the slippery future, with its blur of wires and bleak, constructed vistas always sitting just beyond unknown corners, Paranoid Landscape is shadowy and hazardous, a mysterious echo only partially heard, always traveling too fast just out of reach.

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