Released via her own Voluminous Arts, Gavilán Rayna Russom’s Slabs Vol I takes thematic cues from the artist’s work in mediumship, deconstructing club music to its rumbling, subterranean juggernaut basics by removing the obvious pleasure/reward triggers and leaving the primal, writhing ugliness dance music is supposed to help us escape. If ever an album sounded like its title, this is it.
There are few niches in modern experimental music Russom hasn’t found herself in at one time or another. Her biography can read like a who’s-who of boundary defiers, taking in collaborations with luminaries such as Brian Chippendale, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Bjorn Copeland and Delia Gonzalez, not to mention a stint in LCD Soundsystem. From an early age she was deejaying parties, using a wide spectrum of styles and genres to please as many people as she could, all the while patching together a genre-less foundation upon which she could build her own experiments – Sole Productions followed in the early 1990s, a short-lived tape exchange project Russom created mainly to disseminate home recorded music under the guise of Child, but whose ethos of fluidity, support and acceptance is clearly reflected in the nascent Voluminous Arts today.
Child tracks sneak out here and there, most notably on RFNAL, which Russom issued in 2020 – a full quarter century after it was first recorded. The artist was only 19 when it was made, and had just moved to New York to study music theory with Benjamin Boretz. Here, increasingly conscious of the appropriative issues she faced in her reliance as a white person on using hiphop and acid house in DJ sets, she balanced up in her own recordings by moving away from classifiable sound altogether: Child emerged out of the improvisational noise of Soma and into pure atmosphere. From there, as she drifted through New York’s myriad disparate scenes, Russom would absorb and destroy: Paper Eyes, for example, chews and spews her clubbing experiences through violent noise filters, grabbing them up and smashing them together in snarling, crunchy tangles of electricity that overloads on Child’s compositional arrhythmia; Black Meteoric Star contrasts crisp electronic beats with the sonic imperfections less investigative musicians might discard entire catalogues over, bringing elements some claim are of supernatural origin into tracks that on a surface level present as floor-ready bangers but deep down entangle us within the vast spatial fabric we share in our billions. And so we reach Slabs, released under her own name to consolidate the fact the album in many ways curates elements of all Russom’s past projects, from the fractured ambience of Child to the ghostly interceptions of Black Meteoric Star and all the snips and slivers of obscure influence in between.
There are certain similarities here to the most recent Tobias. album, which also buried itself somewhere deep beneath the dance floor. If anything, though, Slabs is even more barren, even more cold and haunted in its rumblings. Beats here, where evident at all, groan and clash against one another like icebergs, their reverberations sucking the air out of the space you’re locked in before fragmenting and glitching as they fall about as shrapnel. “An Eternal Unfolding” repeats its title like a death cult mantra as vast swathes of crushing electronics spill over and stab with increasing violence; it is at once terrifying and strangely transcendent, like the addled final throes of a true believer. Similarly, “A Spell to Freshen Water” clicks, bumps and sweeps behind an increasingly irate vocalist who rails against the death of autonomy – it’s like “Frankie Teardrop” produced by Leftfield, completely overwhelming as walls of sound creep inexorably inwards. Both tracks are jarring and demanding, breaking up dub pulses and burying clubland influences like fragments of charred bone.
The remaining two tracks are vocal-free, with the closing “Thorn Work” particularly affecting. Horror film strings drag and squeak over an ocean of static, which in turn hides at unplumbable depth the merest semblance of something stirring. It is for all intents a dark ritual ambient track – its distant booms, whose echoes disintegrate in the fizzing waves, could pass for growls – and unseen menace abounds around the edges. “Crevasse” is likewise doomy, rather like a Thomas Köner recording in the way it evokes blasting gales of iciness. It moves with unstoppable pace, although it’s difficult to tell what exactly drives it. There’s an avalanche of smudged throbs beneath, forcing the surface winds to flaying-point, and a squidgy boing of electronics that rides through to the close. It crowns an album of great sonic variety, albeit one whose thread of darkness connects the strands; in the same way, despite its outlier status in the obtainable Russom catalogue thus far, it is undoubtedly hers and only the latest attestation to her singular talent for reconfiguring whichever corner of the known musical world she chooses to disappear into.