After delivering one of this decade’s early classic LPs, Naarm’s brilliantly incomparable CS + Kreme morph into modal jazz electronic mutations on a deadly cool but restless new album exploring the fissures of Detroit beatdown, early ‘00s electronica, contemporary midnight jazz and ambient rituals, featuring contributions from Bridget St John and James Rushford.
Adored around these parts since their 2016 debut 12” with Total Stasis, Conrad Standish & Sam Karmel’s duo really dominated our listening lives during the pandemic with ’Snoopy’, a heady elision of downbeat styles that crossed borders between lysergic Coil rites and illbient trip hop with a snug intimacy and emotive grip that rewarded deeper with every listen. One of their last live shows before the pandemic was held at The White Hotel in Salford, where the formative, physical experience of performing their music on a finely tuned sound system stuck with the duo as they caught one of the last flights back to Australia, where they endured one of the harshest lockdown protocols in the world; not allowed to travel more than 5 miles from home, and only for limited amounts of time.
During lockdown the residual glow of the preceding months buoyed their spirits and prompted a new slant on CS + Kreme music, urging them to get deeper into it, with melody taking more of a backseat to texture and groove as the recordings manifested a more built-in, metaphoric and circular, organic quality that feels very much in-the-present, but also gently dissociative, evoking the interstitial states of mind of natural highs and nostalgic reminiscence
‘Orange’ arrives as the ideal sibling to ’Snoopy’, blessed with a touch-sensitive emotional intelligence and sensuality that oozes therapeutic vibes. The swirling energies of their first LP here feel settled into a quietly profound psychedelic experience, with longer track lengths allowing their feelings to grow and slosh over the senses with a groggier suspension of disbelief from the snaking rustle of ‘Baseline’ thru the extraordinary 20 minute depths of oily ambient invocation to ‘Storms Rips Banana Tree’ featuring James Rushford on portative organ, Wurlitzer and harpsichord.
The spirit of Arthur Russell's "World of Echo" looms over 'Shred', as moody, viscous strings roll over reduced, machine-gun drum machine patterns and deranged lite-jazz electric piano. Any links the mind makes are inevitably blotted into surreal shapes almost immediately; just as you think you have an idea of where the track's coming from, bizarre vocals and unsettling flute blasts wrench you into a different locale. Even on the relatively austere 'Voice of the Spider', what starts as a baroque minimal techno slowly mutates into glassy FM modernism, with vocal chants and delirious, curvaceous instrumentation that plays like Kemetrix and Detroit Escalator Company on a dank one.
If there's one element that lashes each disparate composition together, it's CS + Kreme's use of voices. On each track there's inevitably a wordless breathiness that roots us in the duo's sonic philosophy; their instrumentals might flutter between vastly different forms of expression, but their transient principles are moored by the most human expression of all. The whisper turns into a murmur (sung by legend Bridget St John) on 'Would You Like a Vampire', and lyrics form a near-song, sounding like Hood's rainy electro-indie variations supplanted into CS + Kreme's psychedelic headspace. It's as close as the duo get to pop, and they follow it by embarking on the album's most uncompromising moment, a 20-minute finale that lurches from transcendent ritual drone into jerky electronics, freeform doom jazz and growling basement noise. If you've made it this far then you've been initiated into Standish and Karmel's musical coterie, and this final mutated gesture feels like a gift from the duo to their most dedicated listeners.