Indignant Senility is one of the many projects of Portland, Oregon artist Pat Maherr, who initially gained some recognition with his Chopped & Screwed hip-hop experiments Expressway Yo-Yo Dieting and DJ Yo-Yo Dieting. But where those projects displayed a -perhaps involuntarily- amusing, yet definitely progressive deconstruction of the archetypes of modern hip-hop, Indignant Senility is an altogether more unfathomable beast.
Maherr’s first album under the IS moniker was Plays Wagner, on which he took used and over-used LPs of the great German composer’s work and pushed them through a waterfall of effects, resulting in an unsettling drone soup out of which sudden bursts of classical melody were rare rays of light in a torrid catalogue of shadows. Inevitably, such a focus on vinyl drew often unfavourable comparisons with Philip Jeck and The Caretaker, so it’s reassuring to find that on Consecration of the Whipstain (surely a strong contender for the title of most peculiar album title of the year), Maherr has put all that behind him and found his own voice.
If anything, Consecration of the Whipstain sees Indignant Senility tracking back slightly to take in a bit of the DJ Screw attitude (Screw-titude?) that made Expressway Yo-Yo Dieting’s Bubblethug (2010, Weird Forest) such a triumph. The clearest indication of this lies in the murky, incomprehensible vocal snippets that crop up here and there across the album, from the creepy muttered utterances on ‘Waking Extirpation’ to the ghostly choirs that hesitantly punctuate ‘No One (Elapsed)’. Rather ironically, Consecration of the Whipstain seems to hone in on the haunted vibe that characterises the best Caretaker records, whilst simultaneously and completely throwing off the sense of derivation that dogged Plays Wagner. As such, on ‘No One (Elapsed)’ – a truly evocative track title, it must be noted – Maherr’s dense clouds of digital murk recede to make way for elusive swirls of distant strings playing melancholy melodies before disappearing back into the ether. Rather than focus on them, Maherr lets them dissolve, making them truly ghostly. The track packs a potent emotional punch, yet also remains tantalisingly intangible, like memories that refuse to stay in focus.
Despite allowing such nostalgic fare to fade in and out of his album, Pat Maherr is no sentimentalist. Consecration of the Whipstain may have its moments of elegant mystery and impalpable emotion, but when it does surge into focus, it’s one scary beast. Type Records, surely on of the best labels around at the moment, has made a habit lately of releasing material that taps into the dark pits of the world in ways that Ian Curtis or Boyd Rice could only have dreamed of. From Xela’s In Bocca al Lupo to William Fowler Collins’ New Mexican nightmare Perdition Hill Radio, via the icy claustrophobia of Svarte Greiner’s Kappe, Type have given free rein to artists wanting to explore the nocturnal, the histrionic and the funereal with morbid abandon. In this context, Consecration of the Whipstain feels like another chapter in Type’s glorious book of horrors. ‘Color Absolution’, for example, is dominated by a dirge-like organ tone that drifts along underneath Maherr’s fog-like drones, as if the Phantom of the Opera had upped sticks to Oregon, organ and all, and was playing a dismal solo lament from on top of an abandoned building in downtown Portland during a rainstorm. Ok, so that’s a rather contrived image, but it does go some way to conveying the way the music of Indignant Senility can so expertly balance the forlorn and the nocturnal. Towards the end of the track, Maherr comprehensively dispenses with any banal comparisons with hauntology by dumping a hideous (in the best possible sense of the word) lump of crackling noise all over the track, submerging the hesitant melodies under a shovel load of gravelly mulch. When the elegiac strings and ambience return, it’s as if they’ve been definitively perverted, their grace coloured by unavoidable nightmarish hues. If hauntology has seemed a tad saccharine of late, Indignant Senility drags it back into the post-noise underground it emerged from.
So is Consecration of the Whipstain a wondrous slice of “memory music” or a terrifying avalanche of “horror music”, in the vein of the aforementioned Xela or Svarte Greiner? Thankfully, it’s both and neither. For sure, there are moments on Maherr’s latest that will leave you unsettled and even afraid, but at the same time there’s something elegiac in the way long lost tunes seem to fight their way to the surface of the mix, in the same way that the submerged notes of ‘Autumn’ on Gavin Bryars’ Sinking of the Titanic somehow manage to turn that album’s sense of sadness into hope. Consecration of the Whipstain is a strong, unflinching statement by an artist increasingly on top of his game. Whilst it may be a troubling listen, it’s also unerringly moving.
Stream the album on the Type website.