Gridfailure is the one-man tenure of New York alternative musician and Earsplit co-owner Dave Brenner. It is Brenner’s first electronic project, which he’d conceived rather spontaneously in February of last year. Even so, this project proves every bit as challenging as it is conceptual. With influences fluttering between noise, psychedelic, and hardcore, its style is mostly akin to a complex, multi-dimensional soundscape. Moreover, it is one that takes the listener into the forefront of an internal haze, pushing them to closely observe what’s presented, no matter the intensity.
Brenner’s newest release for Gridfailure, titled Hostile Alchemy, seems to provide a uniquely sonic understanding of a society in shambles. Based on the album’s title, the album resembles an experiment gone haywire, affecting even the soundest of psyches. Yet in doing so, it somehow reveals the extent of their vulnerability in music form. Right from the first track, “Unveiled Abyss,” the sensation of life rapidly passing by sets in. From an alternate perspective, that insinuates experiencing that speed in slow-motion, revealing ‘real time’ occurrences. At the base of the instrumentation is a constant, heartbeat percussion, followed by subtle reverse droplets. The top represents one’s conflicted spirituality; hymn-like vocals contrast with what sounds like roaring flames, as if a devil and angel are toe-to-toe. Gradually, a distorted guitar melody enhances that of the vocals, insinuating a tenacious hope that resounds amidst the conflict. Next up is “Target Rich Environment,” a longer track which shifts the scenario from one of spiritual warfare to physical. Imagery of smog-filled clouds from distant explosions comes to mind when envisioning the bulk of its atmosphere. Sirens wail and crowds are screaming, both of which are drizzled by muffled, flange-laden shrieks. Toward the later portion of the track, a series of piercing squeaks differentiate between long and short tempos. Still, a heartbeat persists, but by the third track, “Kompromat,” that rhythm becomes difficult to detect. Throughout, a wave of static accumulates before totally covering up its components. Nonetheless, the static assumes several forms which, in turn, slightly declutters its atmosphere. Considering how this is executed amidst additional screams, the experience is akin to a hellish, seemingly never-ending rollercoaster ride. Once the mass subsides, a layer of feedback emerges before becoming doused in flange. “Mannequins” marks the return of a heartbeat, this time under a pronounced wah-wah effect. From the background, a low hum is heard, and proceeds to be coupled with a quite disorienting, high-pitched synth arrangement. Noting this particular title as well, it feels like the very pace of the music was artificially resurrected, its surroundings turning increasingly false in much the same way. Once again, the hymn-like vocals enter in to balance out the mood of the atmosphere.
As “Surrogates” covers the midpoint of the album, there seems to be a more noticeable semblance of conventional rhythm within its skeleton. The combinative muffled screaming vocals and guitar fuzz works especially given the album’s shift of pace. That the song features a steady calm without overexerting itself feels refreshing in that respect. With the newfound sense of structure comes an interlude, “EMP ASAP.” This section feels sensibly linked to its title, and gives the sensation of coping amidst an elongated surge of pain. Brenner captures that effectively, implementing a deep bass frequency that carries its extent. Additional string-based instrumentation encompasses this happening on both sides, further emphasizing the anguish being felt. After that, “Scourge Telepathy” represents a kind of transition from feeling uncomfortable to numb. In this way, Brenner subdues the fuzz to make room for a bone-chilling, detuned string arrangement. Further, underneath the bending riffs and guttural howls that enter in the mix, a pulse begins to be heard once again. The transition between the remaining tracks, “Hostile Alchemist” and “Fallout Curtain,” then comes as the ultimate test of one’s enduring will. Through the most haunting and mind-bending scenery of one track, the latter suggests a kind of decisive battle between heaven and hell. A burst of flames and angelic cries collide, pushing the limits of the album’s stylistic and thematic boundaries. The flames subside and the angels are heard clearly, indicating the once struggling spirit has pulled through.
Overall, Hostile Alchemy took me through a wave of adventurous, bordering unsettling, and yet, downright thrilling surprise. I’m normally not big on noise-based music, nor am I familiar with Brenner’s work, but this experience definitely enlightened me. In listening to this album, I began to recognize the value of conceptual pacing even in the most extreme setting of styles. That said, Gridfailure is now on my radar, should I need a substantial reference for quality musical experimentation.