The Tower - Parts VIII - XVIII / Carrion Squared
B / C-
low away the self-generated mystery surrounding Mordant Music—the whole enterprise of mystery is a gimmick at this point—and what do you have? Even without their rhetoric and lamely goth design-nerd monikers (Admiral Greyscale!), the British duo’s puddles of dark ambience and soft-focus industrial drones are a little too cloudy to make out anything other than earnest misanthropy. At essence, they want to make what only about a hundred people want to hear (but those hundred really want it): the hip equivalent of a haunted-house EFX disc.
Their Christian names—Ian Hicks and Gary Mills—would better serve the show: no-faced, potato-fed orphans who blossomed into two more expendable Anglos pulling overtime at a large crank. After work, they trudge home past the great oil slick, etc. Short puffs of smoke into industrial Britannia's fog clouds. Their anonymity—as differentiated from “mystery”—goes a long way, and has more to do with their sound than their one-sheets: Mordant’s best music seems like it could’ve been made by any sci-fi-obsessed melancholics; at times, it feels more found than created.
Carrion Squared is broken into a series of short interludes. One: this is my synth patch. Two: this is my off-kilter, ground-down breakbeat. Three: this is what steam sounds like after I put a phaser on it. Originally, these tracks were commissioned by publishers Boosey & Hawkes for an industry-only film. And they were, as I understand it, rejected. Bless B&H’s long-beating heart for imagining there was any way Mordant could soundtrack something other than footage of a sewer, but that’s their problem. And Mordant’s advantage, actually: though there’s been a recent fetishization of the “library soundtrack” genre (by Mordant and the ever-excellent Ghost Box label), the value of this influence rests on the fact that it’s balanced out by, say, the corrosive psychedelia of Throbbing Gristle or free jazz or horror-film effects. It’s nice to know they failed to be a part of this particular cultural pantomime. But they’re close, and Carrion Squared, like those science-class films, is functionally cool for about five minutes and then blandly didactic for the rest.
But The Tower finds them where they belong, floating between recent work by protean electronic ghouls Excepter or the nearly all-echo-and-reverb sound of the Caretaker. Wispy, sour synthesizers hang around like garbage stink, the occasional drum machine wafts out but never really pulls the sound together, and there are some genuinely beautiful melodies and structures (“The Tower” is eminently mixtape-able, but I advise you to consider what kind of mix would benefit from six minutes of miasma). It’s immersive where Carrion is demonstrative. It’s good music to frown at co-workers with.
Mordant probably aren’t ever gonna make “progress,” per se. That wouldn’t be right. Their sound is already a weird quilt of retro impulses: library music, early synth experiments, early industrial music. And the overarching premonitions in their music of a quiet, gray future won’t recede until they come true. And they won’t. So let Mordant float in the same non-circumstances of all prime psych misfits: without a time, without a place, and usually the better for it.