A sense of unease drives Lea Bertucci and Lawrence English’s Chthonic. Rhythms crash like boulders and high-end shapes shriek like birds. An imaginary dive beneath the earth’s crust that finds inspiration in the mysteries of the underworld, the record strikes a delicate balance between their respective styles, blending English’s blazing static and field recordings with Bertucci’s fluttering strings and wind melodies. Both artists have a tendency to sprawl, but Chthonic showcases a more compressed side of their practices, exploring the intensity of densely woven phrases.
Bertucci and English met in 2019, and Chthonic, which they created remotely, passing ideas back and forth between New York and Australia, is their first collaboration. It’s a fitting match: Both artists use music as a means of grappling with the ways that time and space shape perception, and both frequently look to the natural world and the particularities of site-specific sound for inspiration. Chthonic builds from these shared interests, painting menacing pictures of the unseen forces at work inside the Earth.
While these pieces move in cycles, they never form neat circles. Instead, they twist and turn, becoming steadily deeper and more dissonant. Strings scrape against plodding pulses; tension rolls in waves. A purgatorial air pervades the duo’s sounds, which often give the impression of being pulled by uncontrollable forces on all sides. The cramped feeling is at its most potent on “Dust Storm,” which begins with torrential rainfall before a low-end buzz slices against snippets of drone stuck in an endless loop. In the 12-minute “A Fissisure Exhales,” bright streaks echo across a cavernous expanse and are swallowed up in the darkness as if sucked into a black hole.
Chthonic can be monotonous; the mood is anxious, and there are few moments of surprise or reprise. But some unexpected passages prove powerful. On the closing “Strata,” Bertucci and English forgo the heavy-handed pressure of earlier tracks, opting instead for a soft, airy shimmer. A hint of relief comes into focus, even though a foreboding suggestion of agitation remains. In an album of crushing force, it’s the rare moment where hope shines through.
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