Boomkat Product Review:
One of the weirdest sonic juxtapositions you're likely to hear this year, 'Gnarled Roots' stitches Dutch hardstyle percussion to canned film score orchestrals and lavishes it all in paradoxical doomer theory and cinematic poetry. So completely out there in the best way.
Last year's 'Hydrangea', the first collaboration between Aussie writer/artist Holly Childs and Gediminas Žygus, the Lithuanian artist formerly known as JG Biberkopf, was a misunderstood and under-appreciated experiment. In fine style, the duo return to venture even further into the unknown on their sophomore effort, refining the concoction and distilling it into a barbed critique of contemporary culture, musical aestheticism and the concepts of belief and knowledge.
If "Hydrangea" had seemed like a bizarre sketchbook of hard dance and familiar classical tropes, 'Gnarled Roots' feels firmly dedicated to developing the framework into a lavish, high budget cinematic score. So we're treated to the AAA sparkle of Hans Zimmer, but without the self-satisfied gloominess - Žygus and Childs are more interested in making us consider exactly what we're hearing, and why. Track to track, our ears are scraped with familiar punching hardstyle kicks and and heaving synths, and pacified by plasticky harps and TV cop show strings.
This collision of familiarity results in mental dissonance that forces our concentration on the words from collaborators Elif Satanaya Özbay, Marijn Degenaar, Mark Prendergast, and Stephanie Overs. Phrases and ideas are spoken clearly and manipulated like instruments, sounding like corrupted news bulletins or a Twitter feed piped into a text-to-speech synthesizer. Childs and Žygus were interested in reactions to 9/11, as well as their own experience of it, so the push-and-pull between belief and knowledge ("jet fuel doesn't melt steel beams") guides the album. With HBO about to release a controversial Spike Lee-helmed documentary, it's more poignant than ever.
'Gnarled Roots' is a challenging record, and a disorientating listening experience, but it's never deliberately grating. Childs and Žygus have succeeded in fashioning a cinematic reaction to the cacophonous, endlessly rolling and shifting narrative of the modern world. It's the sound of culture consuming itself in real time.