A self-consciously epic, long-in-the-making new project that inexplicably fuses dub techno, grindcore, dreampop and psychedelic hard dance in a way that really shouldn’t work but which ends up completely upending the rulebook in the best way. Somewhere between Rhythm & Sound, Cocteau Twins, Napalm Death and DUMA? Bit special this one.
The Ephemeron Loop is the work of Gretchen Aury of acclaimed xenofeminist duo Guttersnipe, and comes to us as the debut release on a new label called Heat Crimes with deep connections to one of the sickest labels around atm. Gretchen wrote and produced the record over a tumultuous 14 year period, in an attempt to document the complex emotional upheavals she experienced as she began to acclimatise to life as a trans woman. Before transitioning, Aury had found herself gravitating towards dark, noisy music and found solace and community in Leeds' queer rave underground. Reconciling all her interests and emotions was going to be a mountain to climb: balancing shoegaze's shimmering beauty with the charge and aggression of noise metal and a gabber 4/4 pulse was the idea, it was just a case of figuring out how to do it.
It wasn't until 2018 that the finished songs began to take shape; Aury enlisted the help of producer Ross Halden - who she'd worked with on Guttersnipe projects before - and the two attempted to unravel years of Reason and Logic projects. Elevated by psychedelics, Aury wanted to curate a soundtrack that adequately captured her journey. The end result is one of the most unusual and daring records we've come across in a while - long-form songs that don't so much go from a to b as dance around locations like fireflies, flitting between poles as the mood inevitably shifts.
Title track 'Psychonautic Escapism (Cold Alienation)’ displays all this in microcosm, dissolving from screaming noise into throbbing dub techno chords and sweeter-than-sweet Liz Fraser-esque vocals. It's a narrative that parallels Aury's experience, flickering from doom into euphoria and landing in a dreamworld, assisted by MDMA-fuelled trance arpeggios. At the mid-way point (the track is 16-minutes long), Aury's breathy coos turn to screams, and hyperspeed hardstyle kicks roll thru the dub-gaze atmospheres with death-defying ease. 'Lattice Dysmorphism of Lysothymic Oneiroid' is bolder still, splaying cloudy vocals and haunted guitars over a labyrinth of overdriven kicks; Aury's rhythms rarely hover over the same spot for too long, they mimic her life with ADHD, morphing so frequently it's hard to keep up. On repeat listens, these mutations become the rhythm itself, signalling the club experience without fully leaning into dreary dancefloor functionality.
Aury's metal roots are fully bared on 'Trench Through Pink Death', smeared into digital effects and augmented with galvanized kicks. On some level, the guitars are still as harmonic as My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless", but the mood is fused with screeching gothic doom and, eventually, manic grindcore. It's to Aury's credit that she's able to stitch all these sounds together into a patchwork that's not only coherent but increasingly addictive. Her narrative is nakedly biographical, and her process of unpicking the story's consistent elements and re-assembling them into something brand new is as smart and sensual as it is complicated.
They say great art is always at risk of failure - Aury lives completely on the edge here, and her risk is our reward.