Lawrence English & Lea Bertucci, “Chthonic”
By Ted Davis · August 07, 2023 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

Australian avant-garde veteran and Room40 label founder Lawrence English is a brilliant sound artist. Diving into his discography—which is packed to the brim with boundary-challenging oddities—is a rewarding undertaking. English’s recent standout LP, February’s Colours Of Air, found him teaming up with Canadian ambient legend Loscil. Their work together had a sweetness to it, as if lightly sprayed with a tasteful perfume. The end result offered English’s easiest listening experience to date.

English’s latest endeavor, Chthonic, is a collaboration with Lea Bertucci. The New York City multi-instrumentalist is a staple in a high-brow corner of the creative sphere. As much an installation artist as a composer, her celestial output has been showcased at esteemed spaces like MoMA and the Walker Museum. The duo met at the Novas Frequência festival in Rio de Janeiro, and they eventually began piecing music together remotely over the Covid-19 lockdown period. Their partnership pushes back on accessibility, presenting a return to form for English that simultaneously highlights a feisty new side of Bertucci’s typically-serene sound.

Chthonic is inspired by movement of the earth, and its title is derived from a Greek term for the underworld. It’s fitting that the craggy album evokes a factory billowing smoke in the heart of some massive cavern. This energy beams especially bright on the track “Geology Of Fire,” on which echoing metallic chimes rest atop a bed of gravelly noises. The sprawling “A Fissure Exhales” plays like a drawn-out recording of the world’s largest gate creaking on its rusty hinges. And opener “Amorphic Foothills” is thrillingly infernal, squeaky strings underlined by thundering percussion. The gentlest moment comes on the droning closer “Strata,” but even that understated cut calls to mind the shrill dying gasp of some prehistoric animal. As a whole, Chthonic feels violent but it never branches into cruelty.

English is deeply aligned with dissonant music, and has a tendency to generate sounds from atypical sources like Adam Curtis documentaries and historic instruments housed in museums. Bertucci’s touch infuses his signature grit with a newfound sense of traditionalism. Across the tracklist, she employs an impressive range of instruments including cello, lap steel, and viola. But one might not necessarily clock those melodic sounds while listening to the record without a bit of context. Her playing manifests as scrapes and warbles, which are outlined by English’s jagged lo-fi textures and gritty tape manipulation. It all comes together for an unnerving homage to the mysteries that lurk within nature’s intimidating systems.

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