For a place that’s meant to be fun, the club is home to a lot of demons. How we seek release can be a mirror of what made us so tense in the first place, and some of the most forward-thinking producers in dance music have used the club as a jumping-off point to interrogate our desires, dreams, and nightmares. Theorist Mark Fisher described Burial’s music as “like walking into the abandoned spaces once carnivalized by raves and finding them returned to depopulated dereliction.” If Burial’s music is an elegy for empty rooms that once pulsed with energy, Lee Gamble’s music is like the phantoms slowly emerging from that space, becoming some twisted new half-alive being.
Fisher, who died in 2017, is on Gamble’s mind throughout Flush Real Pharynx 2019-2021, a collection of three EPs dedicated to Fisher’s concept of the “semioblitz”—what Gamble interprets as “the aggressive onslaught of visual and sonic stimuli of contemporary cities and virtual spaces.” Starting in 2019 with In a Paraventral Scale, continued later that year with Exhaust, and now concluding with A Million Pieces of You, the project represents a shift in Gamble’s focus to the overstimulated ecstasy and dread of urban consumerism. Whereas earlier releases like KOCH and Diversions 1994-1996 consisted of gaseous loops and decayed jungle samples that spun out into distended horrors, here Gamble crafts his music out of disarmingly clean textures. You can hear the unnerving silent space creeping around the edges of this music, each shimmering synth line and mangled acid loop floating like a detatched limb. If his earliest work was in conversation with tape-hiss connoisseurs like Actress, Flush Real Pharynx takes its pages from the deconstructed-club school of Amnesia Scanner, leading us through a nightmare of late capitalism that’s dark, disorienting, and at times, draining.
Assembled into one dense 77-minute package here, the three individual EPs that make up Flush Real Pharynx each bear a distinct character. The first EP, In a Paraventral Scale, is the smoothest of the bunch, luring the listener in with the seductive, silvery drones of “Fata Morgana.” A cybernetic meditation that gives way to panning, vertigo-inducing flangers, it slowly spins the senses in multiple directions at once, an effect as uncomfortable as it is hypnotizing. Gamble’s uncanny approach to the sounds of modern life greatly benefits from headphones: On “BMW Shuanghuan X5,” he creates a strange lullaby out of the sound of speeding cars, transforming their engine hum into something almost soothing, like ocean waves crashing against the shore. The effect is not unlike watching ASMR unboxing videos: a surgically precise serotonin release broadcast in eerie 4K.
Gamble returns to the club on Exhaust, the trilogy’s second (and strongest) installment. Literally starting with a bang, Exhaust seamlessly folds Gamble’s sound-design ambitions into the context of rave music, to dizzying effect. “Envenom” leaps from one breakbeat to the next like a broken television skipping between channels, each loop more erratic than the last, until the whole thing collapses in a cacophony of information overload. Gamble’s drill and jungle rhythms constantly feel as if they’re being torn apart (quite literally, on the endlessly dissociating skips of “Saccades”). Their pounding bass alludes to an ecstatic release that might come if there weren’t so many different sonic threads to get lost in. Perhaps most gleeful is “Tyre,” a double-time techno workout by way of Jazz From Hell whose cartoonish marimbas speed by with a manic grin, an accelerationist funhouse mirror too fast for the mind to adequately keep up with.
Not all of Gamble’s ideas stick the landing, particularly when he gets caught up in overwrought samples advertising luxury cars and perfume, along with other hackneyed tropes. The final EP, A Million Pieces of You, begins with a deepfake of Gamble’s own voice reciting indecipherable gibberish about selfies, and for much of the remainder of the collection, the fatigue Gamble implies about the digital world begins to bleed into the music. The only installment recorded during the pandemic, A Million Pieces of You strikes a balance between the first two EPs, achieving neither the preternatural calm of the first nor the frenzied movement of the second. At its best, on gently swelling tracks like “Hyperpassive” and “Balloon Copy,” a newfound melodic softness injects some warmth, capping off the trilogy on a refreshingly human note.
Like the commercialist society it mirrors, Flush Real Pharynx is as dazzling as it is exhausting, offering a plethora of options to engage with, yet triggering a strangely hollow feeling. Its concept isn’t exactly the most original—many of these ideas have been played out through the deconstructed club and vaporwave movements for years—but even so, Gamble’s sound design remains evocative, a radiant, ever-shifting collage of sonic images to swipe through. It may ultimately be as surface-level as the culture it critiques, but even surfaces can be beautiful sometimes.
Buy: Rough Trade
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