Merzbow & Alessandro Cortini Merzbow & Alessandro Cortini

Merzbow & Alessandro Cortini  Merzbow & Alessandro Cortini

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Japanese noise great Massami Akita (aka Merzbow) and Nine Inch Nails multi-instrumentalist Alessandro Cortini have produced a solid candidate for the year's most difficult listen.
 
The real star of this show is a piece of technology known as the EMS Synthi. A product of Electronic Music Studios introduced in 1971, this was one of the go-to synths for sci-fi movie directors and prog/new wave artists alike. Its list of customers included Pink Floyd, Yes, Jean-Michel Jarre, Brian Eno and Ultravox. How dated in this technology? The product specs recommend waiting 10 minutes for the oscillators to warm up.
 
It's not entirely clear that Merzbow and Cortini heeded this advice; they push the Synthi hard on this double-LP. It's the aural equivalent of a Formula 1 driver underestimating a hairpin turn.
Not that either driver loses control — if there are accidents on this 72-plus minute ride, they're the beautiful kind that come from enthusiastic, skilled improvisation.
 
That said, the work's intensity has a downside. The album is dense at times to the point of near-impenetrability, and it almost never lets up.
 
The resulting lack of range is a missed opportunity. Rather than producing a challenging album you can grow attached to with repeated listens, the pair have produced an art piece that you'll be glad you got to hear. Once. (Important)