There’s a point in the earliest of Death In The Cities‘ tracks at which you come to the steady realisation that perhaps the soundworld you’re being lulled into isn’t quite as sweet and transcendental as it might promise. It is heralded by the emergence of a tone from beneath the gently lapping surface of the pressure-affecting kind favoured by sonic galaxy-colliders like Roly Porter, cyclo. and Emptyset – you know, the ones that bring about the kind of stomach-jolting drop you experience when an elevator descends more quickly than you expect it to, or a plane hits turbulence. Their power stems from a practically un-pinpointable quality, which seems to manipulate the air around your person as much as it stimulates the auditory cortex; they’re not sounds so much as poltergeist activity, meting out physical jabs upside the head.
Granted, the method as utilised by Hamburg’s Bonzaii (aka Benito Pflüger) isn’t nearly as bruising, and nor is it intended to be. Instead, it behaves as a slow, rising creep, metamorphosing skilfully to at first mimic and eventually overcome the gorgeous crests of sampled vocals and field recordings that form the optimistic opening washes. The EP’s accompanying information mentions Tarkovsky’s Solaris as a significant influence on Death in the Cities, chiefly the destructive influence the titular planet has over the protagonist’s psychological state and the dissolution of reality aboard the space station, and Bonzaii delivers on the premise pretty much perfectly. Take the first track, “Yellow Church,” and its progression from bright choral haze into searing bass throb, and try to finger the point at which the plummet through the stratosphere begins. Bonzaii’s skill is such that just as the track reaches its enchanting zenith, the realisation strikes that you are no longer in the same, seemingly safe space. “Liturgy” is practically a reprise, shifting from the enormous orchestral sweep of its opening minutes into a savage climax of crunch and buzz with the same unsettling structural subtlety.
From this point, Death in the Cities‘ dark side begins to dominate more clearly. “Eyes in the Water” is a slow, viscous ocean of forcibly dislodged existences; the title track a whirling pulsar sucking psyches into a gnashing void. Both are disquieting, distinctly cognitive experiences, once again chiming perfectly with the artist’s vision. As “Death in the Cities” progresses it seems to become angrier, more desperate to obtain its life force – as it lashes out at full volume, it’s hard not to wonder whether you as the recipient are not, in fact, its next meal.
There is lightness to be found in “Pillow Vortex,” the EP’s expansive closer. For the first time, the bass struggles to make it through, with sublime, airy billows of shimmering sound just – just – managing to keep it at bay. Effectively, though, the feeling is one of emptiness and drift, not escape. As the distance grows inextricably between you and the earth, you find yourself bobbing like a blown egg on an infinite sea, at the mercy of whichever island it is you wash up against next. And you think: “I’m glad this is one of those dreams where you know you’re dreaming.”
Bonzaii’s Death In The Cities EP is available now from Decaying Spheres.