CD / CD-R » Andreas Brandal – The Familiar Stranger

Andreas Brandal – The Familiar Stranger

Andreas Brandal – “The Familiar Stranger” CD-R in slipcase, with screen printed disc and cover. (Small Doses, 2009)


Foxy Digitalis:

I love when a record reaches into that dark place located somewhere near fear, confusion, and the suppression of terrifying memories. The title for Andreas Brandal’s disc “The Familiar Stranger” could not be more apropos. This is the room in your house where you were afraid to go—the basement’s moldy cistern perhaps, or the dusty, stifling attic. You’ve lived in the house your entire life and you’re so uncomfortably familiar with the demonic presences that you feel just while thinking about entering these spaces. The orchestration on this album is so perfectly executed. Noise dominates the show of course, but there are also these impeccably-chosen moments during which the wall crumbles to reveal a more fragile, mammalian sound. The interplay has the effect of reflecting the feeling generated by the noise and enlivening the quieter pieces. Contrast!

The first track, “The Wound that Feeds”, spends its five minutes traveling between organic and electronic realms. This is probably my favorite piece on the disc, though it’s always hard to pick a favorite on an album as rich and capable as this one. This first track features (as the liner notes mention) ‘percussion’, among other organic sounds. The piece begins gently with this brief percussion, and then subtly swells into an ambiguous land of noise and feedback, only to drop back to near-silence. After a brief pause, the track is blown wide open to noise and static. From here it is a journey between terrifying scenes from a basement hide-and-seek horror film. Noise flashes both intense and subtle waver, rise and fall. Brandal has mastered dynamics with this piece. It’s the shortest track on the disc, but it so quickly and effectively travels from screaming terror to shivering and whispering, leaving no room for boredom or rest.

The second piece, “Dawn Went Backwards”, features a similar dialogue between what sound like field recordings (sounds that make me think of water and earth, though I can’t entirely be sure I’m correct in visualizing these things) and throbbing static and noise. We take a day trip into white noise, and then return briefly to route in the tunnels below a volcanic ruin. The track takes its time, moreso than the one before it. Expressions are fleshed out to a greater degree and Brandal stays on the crest of each wave for a longer period, while allowing other sounds accents to creep in and out each time. “Dawn Went Backwards” is overall not as enchanting as the first track (maybe I become slightly anxious after more than one minute of the same kind of noise), but still very effective in stirring my feelings of terror and discomfort.

The last track on the disc is the title track, and it stands out very distinctly from the others. It begins with what sounds like a demonic operatic whimper—commence noise. Around seven minutes, we leave the noisy realm and enter a quieter place where things can definitely be heard moving about. The closest I can come to describing it is that feeling you get when you’ve heard something move, but you know it’s not ‘possible’, since you’re alone. You want to investigate, but you fear it will turn up nothing, which would after all validate the presence of dark powers. The track “The Familiar Stranger” features some of Brandal’s most choice natural sounds—what sound like metal grates and other random metal pieces, wooden rods , chains, and large boxes. Toward the end there is a kind of found-object jam session, in which the harsh noise ceases and the natural sounds dominate. Following this is an amazing electronic experience (best perceived with headphones). The piece closes on a wave of static.

My initial listen to this was with stereo speakers, but I’d really recommend getting this onto your iPod or just plugging some headphones into your stereo (or just turn the volume on your stereo way up, if your neighbor upstairs doesn’t mind), because the nuances are immense here. I’m not typically a fan of straight-up harsh noise, but this is an album that I can get into. It is rich in texture and emotion, and after listening, it is obvious that Brandal is familiar with the strangers of his own life. I’m so pleased he has decided to share his experiences with us. 9/10 — Michael Jantz (23 June, 2009)

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