Kansas-based producer Barabbason has contributed to the fledgling Middle-America Electronic Listening Music scene since 2015 with the release of his Eurodendrome EP. On his eponymous 2015 album and two 2016 albums Music for Adopted Children and Gentle Force Dross Remover, he developed his thoughtful brand of textural electronic music. His sound was clearly born out of an appreciation of the Warp and Rephlex records mainstays—namely Autechre, Aphex Twin, Clark, and the rest of that crowd—but it blends those classic ‘90s IDM roots well with the kind of sound design you hear on more contemporary artists like Patten, Burial, Ital Tek, and Dntel. His previous albums all accurately represent Barabbason’s signature sound—but often times they spread themselves thin, and their sprawling experimentation works against them. Barabbason’s newest effort, Loftiness Abased, does not radically shift from this basis, but it acts as a singular, focused statement from an excellent producer.
The opener, “Aroma,” quickly gives its listener a pretty clear idea of the album’s direction—a Hip-Hop beat à la Autechre’s “61e.CR” sputters, moving in and out of filters, gradually gaining energy; distorted vocal samples interrupt the madness occasionally, and a synth bass vies for space. Finally a mid-range melody enters after a minute-and-a-half—the drums become more muted and the Amen-break snare sample gets softened. A bell-like treble melody enters above the rest of the mix and the drum break unleashes once again—these shine in complement for a moment before the percussion gives way to an undistorted vocal sample—a woman’s echoed voice, still speaking too softly to be understood. Overall it’s a testament to Barabbason’s dynamic and melodic range—and his knack for juxtaposing frenetic and reverent moods.
“Aroma”’s progressive structure can be found throughout the album—for instance, “Bethsaida” begins with a rather clean drum break and a pizzicato string synth—these move between each other in argument for about a minute before the track falls into a glitching, dark, drone-y stasis. When the drums enter again, sung vocals are added. The strings return, this time playing washing chords underneath the vocals. An echoing electronic piano signals the song’s build. The percussion undergoes a change, adding resonance and a flanger snare before cutting off completely, and letting the drones and vocals complete the track with spaciously. This is the only song to feature sung vocals, but they certainly add to the track—just as Clark’s vocals make Totems Flare a revelatory album.
Later tracks, like “Door” and “Dominion” take the Barabbason sound in different directions. The latter uses Bleep Techno synths and Industrial percussion to make a chipper tune with a bright textural palette, a song-crafting method not so different from Plaid’s when they were in their heyday; it’s specifically reminiscent of “Coat”. “Door” gives Oversteps-era Autechre production a Pop-y immediacy by means of a Daft Punk vocoder and heavy bass hook. It’s noisier segments hint at the kind of electronic ground Oneohtrix Point Never covered on Garden of Delete. The song remains too true to the density of Barabbason’s sound to ever give way to anything exactly catchy—but it remains memorable despite trading melodies between different instruments and obscuring its more infectious elements. The closer, “Delivered,” reprises the pizzicato strings from “Bethsaida” in major-key contemplative and airy ambient space—it’s a rich, flawless track.
By the album’s conclusion one feels satisfied by a solid 40 minutes of excellent IDM, and to a certain extent this is both the greatest strength and worst fault of Loftiness Abased. The album, though carefully considered and well crafted, clearly relies a great deal on its influential models. Its best moments come when it sounds like nothing else—when it stops becoming a product of its influences and instead focuses on being its own music entirely. Tracks like “Bethsaida” and “Delay Return” do this well; the former’s eerie vocals and the latter’s spastic update of Glitch and Drum ‘n’ Bass break down the walls of genre. But if Loftiness Abased gives us any hint of Barabbason’s direction for future output, it looks promising. It’s certainly the most fluid record of the four he’s released—and in spite of its stylistic variation it has a quality of continuity that one rarely finds on contemporary electronic albums (even though none of its tracks transition directly into each other). This continuity should be attributed to the well-designed percussion samples and synths—the kind of superb engineering necessary to make an electronic album interesting. Barabbason sticks to these synth sounds consistently without self-plagiarizing, maintaining a thread between tracks without duplicating his work. If he continues to push his sound with this degree of focus, we can expect Barabbason’s next album to be even better.
Listen to the record on Spotify: