It’s now been twenty years since Winnipeg producer Aaron Funk began releasing his inimitable brand of Drill ‘n’ Bass—more specifically called Breakcore, a genre founded (and a term coined) by Bong Ra in 1998, but made popular by Funk in the early ‘00’s under his primary moniker, Venetian Snares. Funk’s work is known for moving between several different electronic (and sometimes classical) melodic styles, sometimes even within the same album, but consistently applying his particularly abstract approach to ultra-fast, ultra-harsh Drum ‘n’ Bass samples and percussive programming. Early works like Doll Doll Doll and Songs About My Cats saw Funk employing then-cutting-edge UK Garage and Proto-Dubstep sounds to create sometimes horrifyingly sinister ambient spaces, which were then overlaid with immensely violent percussive samples—objectively speaking some of the most frightening music of the time. His golden age works (2005 – 2006) Rossz Csillag Alatt Született and Cavalcade of Glee and Dadaist Happy Hardcore Pom Poms saw the development of his most melodic, mainstream sound—the former often gets counted as one of the foremost IDM albums of its day. More recently we’ve seen Funk return to more concretely explored genre patterns, like the ironic EDM synths of Detrimentalist and most recently his most deliberately throwback sound, Traditional Synthesizer Music, which eschewed sampling in favor of analogue synth sound-design. One ought to say these are only a few of the more prominent Vsnares albums—he’s an incredibly prolific producer who has only slowed to a reasonable rate of album-releasing in the past five years; I literally don’t know anyone who’s heard all of his albums, and I figure if I ever met a person like that he would be so entirely distanced from reality, caked in the shit of his own isolated righteous anger, he probably couldn’t communicate in normal human words. But I digress.
Now, on the album with the elaborately long title you see at the top of this page, which I will here truncate to She Began to Cry…, Funk demonstrates having learned quite a bit about synth programming and engineering from his experiments on Traditional Synthesizer Music, and has now reapplied that aesthetic approach and sound palette to a significantly more abstract musical landscape, one that shares more with the horror of Doll Doll Doll, Making Orange Things, and Winnepeg is a Frozen Shithole—all albums released over 10 years ago—than anything he’s done since his productive slowdown starting in about 2011. Consequently, the album takes on an undeniable air of artistic maturity—this from the same man who 8 years ago released My So-Called Life, an album filled with probably the most childishly incendiary sampling this side of 4chan (e.g. “Mike Paradinas in your punani”).
At times, though, this same maturity that makes She Began to Cry… a unique step forward in Funk’s catalogue also distances it considerably from the quintessence of Venetian Snares—it sounds more like an Autechre album (specifically Oversteps-era Autechre) than anything Funk has released in the past. Observe, for example, “Someone Painted A Giants Paperclip On The Sidewalk Right Where You Fell”, the album’s seventh track. Its frigid ambient open and twelve-tone melody are simply not elements present in any of Vsnares past output, at least not in such a protracted or emphasized sense. The post-acid basslines and stereo false-plucked analogue sounds play like direct quotations from any number of Autechre, Clark, or even Burial songs—sounds firmly grounded in the aesthetics of 2003 – 2009 dark ambience. It’s a dated, derivative type of sound design, which is unfortunate, especially considering the exciting directions and innovations Funk has taken throwback electronic music this decade, in light of the general obsession with nostalgic rewriting that’s become so popular in the vaporwave and post-vaporwave eras. Perhaps the only exciting element of “Someone Painted…” is the percussion, which is classically Snares in arrangement and new in programming—that is to say, it clearly demonstrates the analogue programming prowess he developed on his last album. To this he’s added a massive Gabber-like kick—which has historically been one of the more twisted appropriations done by Vsnares: in many cases (Winnipeg is a Frozen Shithole) he’s used the sound to comic effect, but here it’s dripping in abstract menace and depth, like the violent strike of profound darkness and utter despair.
I discuss “Someone Painted…” above because of how well it generally exemplifies many of the album’s problems and strengths—and actually, the album’s sonic uniformity makes it almost redundant to talk about any other track specifically. Generally, uniformity is considered a positive characteristic in an album and taken as another sign of an artist’s maturity, but I’d say with respect to Venetian Snares, an artist so involved in making even his most jejune work conceptually and stylistically cohesive, the degree of uniformity on She Began to Cry… begins to detract from the experience of the album itself—it makes it hard to grab hold of any of the songs or differentiate them from one another at all; this isn’t helped by each track’s elaborately long name. But knowing Funk, this is probably a deliberate choice. He wants to make album that’s completely distanced from song itself and immersive for the purpose of disorientation. It succeeds fully in this regard.
But despite the album’s undisputed success at everything it apparently sets out to do, it remains a disappointment exactly because it sets its sights too low. Venetian Snares was once an artist so entirely beyond the contemporary scene, anything he made was bound to be innovative. Indeed, artists like Iglooghost, who released Soul Feeder’s favorite album of 2017, wouldn’t exist were it not for the innovations of Aaron Funk a decade ago. But now, on this album, Venetian Snares sounds more like he’s ten years behind experimental electronic music than ten years ahead.