Stare at the fuzz of an empty television frequency for long enough, and the distortion will take on illusory shapes. Stare at it further, and it may appear there is a transmission struggling to manifest. That’s what Half High’s debut reminds me of. It reminds me of how that transmission would sound had it the strength to broadcast with clarity; were it truly something inanimate stirring into life.
Horror isn’t a satisfyingly precise descriptor, but as a genre it fits this record okay. A duo comprising Lucy Phelan and Matthew Phelan of Naked on the Vague, Half High generate the sensation of being privy to some dreaded, arcane knowledge that is (and always has been) there, despite our refusing it. Substantial, irrefutable evidence of some truth we don’t want validated, buried and strenuously forgotten, newly exhumed. Analogue synths, tape manipulations and drowsy vocalisations mark proceedings, but none of these elements ever sound like they’re being “played”. This music is an ancient presence.
There’s a complete absence of violence and/or event here, yet Suspension places us right in the thick of something strange and threatening. The horror just is. It’s all around you. This is the calm amid the storm. In a brief Q&A last year, Hopkins noted the “almighty existential horror” of clocks, and the power they have to govern virtually all of humanity. Much of Suspension sounds like some kind of system or mechanism lethargically processing itself into actual consciousness through sheer force of repetition. ‘#10’ comprises two penetrating tones that modulate with little interference, until finally a warped, baritone voice mutters something indecipherable, conjuring the cold conveyor-tied repetition to life. It’s a newly sentient system neither malignant nor friendly, just horrifyingly – and impossibly (!) – alive.
Don’t be led to believe Suspension is an impenetrably dark album though, because sometimes it’s very beautiful. If the bulk of the record trades in horrific miniatures, ‘#9’ pans outwards to take in the chrome green impression of everything operating at once: distant gaseous and amorphous textures politely interfering and blending with the whole. The closing synth modulations on track three would be threatening if they didn’t lure the listener into an uneasy, narcoleptic calm.
We’ve heard hints of this before. Hopkins’ early solo projects – Bad Tables and Lamp Puffer – were both reminiscent of slumbering techno-apparitions showing slight evidence of movement. Phelan’s early Knitted Abyss project was more organic, yet it drifted and undulated in a similar fashion to some of the tracks on Suspension. What results is a record that may surprise even longterm Naked on the Vague fans, not because it’s intrinsically better or unexpected, but more for its impressively careful awakening of that other. Here they untie, rather than wrest. The sledgehammers have been forcedly removed. Stare into the void, watch it come to life.
Release date: December 2012
Suspension is available at Repressed Records and Pigeon Ground in Sydney, and Wooly Bully in Melbourne. You can order through Albert’s Basement, or email the band directly at matthewphiliphopkins [at] gmail [dot] com