4.8.22 by Peter Woods
There must have been something in the Midwest’s water in the late 2000s, a weird little critter of some sort that pushed the noise scene into making and listening to a geographically specific brand of dark synth drone. And while some of the folks making this dense industrial sludge had been honing this kind of music for years, it seemed to coalesce into a moment of visibility and interest right around 2008 or 2009. The pristine (and degrading) landscapes of Ryan Opperman’s Klinikal Skum, the low-end oscillations of Hive Mind, and the slowly evolving terror of (the aptly named) supergroup Nightmares exemplified a uniquely midwest approach to synth-based soundscapes that drew equally from early industrial, contemporary power electronics (a field all of the artists listed dabbled in as well), and the compositional techniques of drone. Put succinctly, this music may have sounded like power electronics but it felt like drone.
A decade on, Minneapolis’ Anthony Amelang must be drinking from the same water source because “Traumland,” a recent tape released on No Coast/No Hope, would fit right in to that moment. Amelang fills every single space and crevice on this C40 with dense and textured layers of pristine synth worship, creating a dark atmosphere that simultaneously feels otherworldly and manifested from within the depths of one’s memory. But what separates Traumland from other midwest industrial drone is the subtle yet direct framing of the album within power electronics. While others may have buried their PE influences deep inside synth textures, Amelang centers the genre and allows the drone to follow.
This tension between wanting to drift into a synth-laden soundscape and go full on PE by yelling shit through a flanger provides the narrative arc of the album. The opening track, “Sublimation,” sets the stage for this dilemma with a quick fade into a throbbing industrial lull that provides the foundation for the deteriorating high end textures that drive the track forward. Amelang then suddenly shifts gears by launching into a blast of white noise on “Jake’s Video” and builds the rest of the piece around a (heavily flanged) spoken text before burying a more aggressive vocal approach on “Each Body Alone” in a bed of low end oscillations. This back and forth between lulling drones and confrontational howls continues throughout the rest of the tape, shifting various influences from the forefront to the background and back again before landing on the straight ahead PE assault of “Uniform Touch.” Amelang then concludes the tape with “Bizarre Parallel Movement,” a perfect mirror of the opening synth dirge.
Taken as a whole, the work on Traumland feels right at home alongside other Midwestern dark synth classics while adding something unique to that legacy. The signature sound of this niche musical community, one that trades in a dedication to saturated drones and pristine production, is here in full force but grows in its full-on embrace of its power electronics influence. And while I’ll fully admit to being drawn into the album through the blast of nostalgia it provided, it’s the evolution beyond those memories that keeps bringing me back.