“Please allow me a little pause to tune the keyboards”, Spencer Clark requested after his opening piece tumbled to a close at Broadcast on Tuesday night. Even if it were possible for his keyboards to be off-pitch, it would have been difficult to tell amid Clarke’s extravagantly inscrutable compositions in which conventional melody and harmony were only momentary, seemingly accidental guests.
Performing under his latest moniker Typhonian Highlife, an artistic persona concocted from Greek mythology, mysticism, and the bizarre imaginations of South African author and extraterrestrial enthusiast Credo Mutwa, Clarke challenged the audience with three pieces from The World of Shells. Each lasted fifteen minutes and consisted of presumably semi-improvised keyboard noodling and digital percussion that was oneiric in tone and structure. The performance fluctuated between meticulously executed passages of intriguing textures – a monsoon of water droplets and flashes of lightning hovering above a meditative synth drone, for instance – and drawn out, tedious sections bearing seemingly very little structure at all.
James Ferraro’s set was similarly beguiling, taking the form of one long piece that resembled an abridged rendition of his most recent treatise on capitalism and corporate aesthetics, Human Story 3. Ferraro’s already unsettling sonic pallette proved quite jarring in a live setting, where he employed computer notification jingles like jump scares as virtual choirs slid uncannily between pitches. Perhaps more intellectually engaging than it was straightforwardly enjoyable, it was nonetheless thrilling to watch and hear Ferraro sculpt an enigmatic sound world from the innocuous yet pervasive digital sound effects that soundtrack our everyday lives, resulting in something tantamount to a part lecture, part meditation on the absurd artificiality of our modern world. It struck me as a more documentarian approach to that material than that of the likes of Oneohtrix Point Never or Holly Herndon, whose work has tended to be more emotional guided or viscerally appealing. Ferraro’s set was less accessible by comparison, but perhaps a truer reflection of contemporary life.
The preceding acts were a fairly unambiguous tip-off that Matt Mondanile’s performance would mark a return to the kind of experimental material upon which he built Ducktails’ blogosphere cachet in the late 2000’s, before his two album stint in lushly produced, full band pop with Domino following the success of his side-gig Real Estate. Excitingly, what we got was something in between. With the help of a loop pedal, drum machine and typical bounty of guitar effects, Mondanile played a set consisting almost entirely of new material that synthesised his recently honed chops in conventional songwriting with warm, hypnotic atmospheres of an uninhibited playfulness not heard since 2009’s Landscapes. Some sections recalled the glossy synthpop of his underrated The Flower Lane, except sporting brassy splashes of neon and bombastic compressed drums that bore the influence of Tame Impala’s Currents. Other moments still resembled “Teenage Fanclub under time dilation”, as a fellow listener put it, in which Mondanile sung along with pre-baked harmonies atop heat-warped major chord changes, doling out fuzzy solos in between. A faithful rendition of Headbanging in the Mirror was an enjoyable concession to anyone who had come expecting the hits, but the real thrill of the night’s performance was the promise of yet higher watermarks still to come for Ducktails. I left dying to hear more.
For more on Ducktails and their tour click here.