If there is a common thread running through the bulk of today's electronic music, it is a fascination with manipulated sound. The music's creators and followers are fixated on process: "What did you use? How did you get it to make that noise?" Beats remain central to dance music, obviously, but many of the more adventurous electronic artists have turned away from percussion as a central theme.
There was a time when that was all but unthinkable. Many of the greats of 1980s-era industrial music were obsessed with percussion. Front 242, Einstürzende Neubauten, Test Dept. — these were bands that loved to bang things together.
Scotland's Drew McDowall was among those pioneers. As a member of Psychic TV and Coil — and as a collaborator with a range of artists — McDowall put a huge stamp on the period. If you've never heard Coil's "Tainted Love," you have truly missed out. His new album, Unnatural Channel, offers a nice bridge between that early period and modern-day tech.
There's plenty of percussion here. "This Is What It's Like" describes a pounding headache, almost to a T. "Recognition" offers up a death-march paced beat set against a mix of heavy industry noise and electronic pings.
The album's highlights are more purely ambient. "Unnatural Channel (Part 1)" is all gritty distortion. "Habitat," if its title is to be taken literally, depicts a truly hellish jail cell. It's dark, sparse and full of sharp metal edges — a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.
Wetware member Roxy Farman contributes a tense vocal to "Unshielded," the disc's final track. Otherwise, this is all McDowall. (Dais Records)