CFCF has produced an album that appears to come from a deeply personal place. For electronic music to sound this immersed in abstract personal feelings without ever becoming over-emotive or schmaltzy is an accomplishment in itself. For what initially appears to be a conceptual thread tightly holding the pieces together without trying too hard to make its intentions fully known is another. The music feels as if it is gradually revealing something about its author track by track, but still retaining a privacy, a reflection of the enigmatic musician who made it. The album sometimes plays like the soundtrack to a lost Aronofsky film, and at other times it belies its modern aesthetic with twists into Radiophonic territory, which becomes the most charming part of a section such as ‘Exercise 3 (Buildings)’, with its seemingly simple piano arpeggios developing into a moving piece that is far greater than the sum of its parts (at the start I was initially thinking “Sweeney Todd!?”).
Settling into the album and its trance inducing short, flowing, instrumental pieces, I found myself jarred by the surprise introduction of 80s pop vocals and garage beats in ‘Exercise 5 (September)’. That’s not to say it doesn’t retain the densely produced, dream-like aesthetic of the other tracks. But it is a seemingly odd choice to have an album that flows so beautifully otherwise interrupted with a full on song. Perhaps this is intentional, as a way of preventing the listener from settling into something that may become too familiar too soon, where the previous patterns of shifting piano chords and soft-synths have been hovering over somewhat similar territory. These are ‘Exercises’ after all. So are we to assume these are not complete works? Fragments of ideas loosely held together? I would see them as just the opposite, the album is a fully realised whole that perhaps takes a bizarre interlude as detour. They are exercises in as much as the titles suggest (Entry, School, Loss), part of life’s training, and learning more about one’s self as time passes.
C V L T S are an enigma that keep on giving. The past year has seen them previously release 2 cassettes, a split 7″, a split c-30, a download maxi-single, and create their own label – Beer on the rug. Their newest cassette, ‘Theta Distractions’, is the label’s next release.
C V L T S are an act of contradictions. ‘Theta Distractions’ is a truly transgressive album that is heavily weighted by the crackling, distorting, and whirring of old, beaten up keyboards, tape machines and delay pedals. Tape WoW and flutter roots it in earthly tones and textures, whilst the melodies take you to another ‘place’. The music is moody and unsettling, drawing the listener in, but always retaining a cold, calculated distance. The sense of detachment comes from the production. Harsh sounds are still beautiful and poignant; simple, raw in execution. The seemingly improvised compositions breathe life into something that could make the listener feel like a trapped outsider were it not for the repetitive, haunting, loops, sending shivers through the body, like the clicking of joints; nervous tension shifting into excitation and satisfaction. Yet unlike, say, Steve Reich or Terry Riley, the repetition is nowehere near as minimalist, building more like slow post-rock.
With breathtaking brevity, the sweeping, subtly shifting melodies move the listener from one place to the next. The entry of the track ‘White cluster’ is a real thing of beauty, a melody captured that feels instantly like it could bring you to tears. It is one of the strongest moments on the album which pulls the listener out of the immersive atmosphere. One of CVLTS’ strengths is in their knowingness, coaxing out moments like this, like a witch conjuring a spell. Suddenly, by transforming the mood again into a pulsating outro, they bring the audience back into the flowing atmosphere, via a mini-symphony with no regard for traditional songcraft. This is another moment which sums up what CVLTS achieve so well, doing away with unnecessary rules of song. These are sound collages, tiny soundtracks to ominous events that are happening, that you are frightened of but still want to be witness to, like some kind of voyeurism. To achieve so much within such a simple idea and set of rules is no mean feat. By retaining playfulness and casuality, they still entertain a great depth of emotion and substance. Fragmentary, momentary ideas are just a significant as longer pieces. ‘Pain management’ is another majestic track that lifts you into ecstasy, it’s slow, churning euphoria, still remaining understated and melancholy, but shifting the music into more optimistic territory, something which was rather needed by this point.
A short, 20 minute journey, and it’s over. Where did you travel? In such a short time, it feels like a long way.
I have also included other examples of C V L T S’ work, nearly all of which can be heard at their bandcamp here.