The two Italian experimental musicians that comprise Bellows arrived at their aesthetic in a manner as oblique as their music. Giuseppe Ielasi, schooled in Derek Bailey and hardcore punk, started out as an improvising guitarist before moving into computer music, electroacoustic drones, and mischievous sampling. Nicola Ratti followed a similar path from guitar abstractions to minimalist electronics. The duo’s sound and methods have remained in flux from record to record. On Bellows’ 2007 debut, they piled soft, amorphous sounds, presumably of their own creation—glinting electric guitars, lopsided percussion, sourceless rustle and chirp—into unsteady heaps. On 2010’s murkier Handcut, they pioneered a twisted form of turntablism, applying contact mics directly to vinyl LPs, which destroyed the records’ grooves after a few rotations—a little like using a rusty scalpel as a musical instrument. But the loop has typically been Bellows’ principal unit of measurement, and on Undercurrent, their first release for Oren Ambarchi’s Black Truffle label, they deliver their most focused music yet.
For a while, Bellows’ recordings were growing in complexity. But Undercurrent is marked by its simplicity. Elongated tones drip against a backdrop of silence and tape hiss; in place of melody, they might offer a silvery curlicue of tone. Occasional tape warble leaves their sounds curling up at the edges. The notes are less important than the way they seem to swoop up or down to the desired pitch.
The music’s constituent parts are typically opaque. To create Undercurrent, Bellows recorded short instrumental parts on guitar, drums, and synthesizer, then cut them into tape loops to be played and manipulated in real time. The most hypnotic tracks, like “01” and “04,” evoke the slow rolling of waves at low tide, or ropes slapping against the masts of moored boats. Others are more harmonic: The placid “02” smears a single organ chord into an analog approximation of Oval’s glitch etudes, while in “05,” a buried humming sound recalls the modal groans of Georgian folk music.
The pace is so slow, the form so repetitive, it’s easy to overlook the subtle ways these constructions shift as they wander. In “06,” two chords modulate back and forth, conveying a sense of resignation as they curl and crumple, like slumping shoulders. And in the closing “08,” the album’s quiet climax, a steel drum makes a plaintive creaking sound, like a rusty gate swinging on its hinges, while faint bursts of Morse-code bleeps telegraph news of an advancing storm. It’s a testament to Bellows’ sleight-of-hand that they can spin such spare materials and subtle movements into something that feels almost like storytelling. With Undercurrent, Ielasi and Ratti distill their music down to its most lyrical and affecting form yet.
Buy: Rough Trade
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