Helm’s Cryptography was one of the highlights of 2011, an album that clearly descended from a noise tradition, but one on which Luke Younger carefully and intricately included elements of found sounds, drone and ambience to create something that elevated the noise elements in a manner not unlike his American counterparts Joe Colley, Mike Shiflet and Kevin Drumm, ably bridging the gap between all-out sonic assault and avant-garde composition.
On Impossible Symmetry, Younger seems to both flex his considerable muscles and broaden his scope in even more nuanced and subtle directions. ‘Miniatures’ opens the album in a fug of submerged drone, a creeping, creaking and groaning soundscape that taps into the collective psycho-geography of his London home. He has previously discussed hearing sounds on the underground and wanting to use them in his recordings, and in my mind’s eye ‘Miniatures’ is a musical reflection of East London, where Overground trains, with their electric hum, rush past my balcony, and strange metallic sounds emanate from the garage across the road. At the same time, the piece works as music, the buzzing drones and whispers of noise combined expertly in the manner of Throbbing Gristle circa ‘After Cease to Exist’ or the time-distorting ambient works of Thomas Köner and SleepResearch_Facility.
Meanwhile, ‘Liskojen yö’ could almost be described as ‘Helm goes dubstep’, as a looped, choppy drum pattern provides a solid rhythmic bedrock over which Younger drops in throbbing bass wobbles, atmospheric chimes and piercing industrial clanks, the track slowly devolving into abstract noise. It’s the strongest moment on the album – a grimy, almost dark ambient, take on Pansonic’s icy techno and the overtly phantomatic post-electronica of Raime and Regis.
Compared to Cryptography, Impossible Symmetry has a stronger focus on electronics, and this helps emphasise its murky, oppressive atmosphere. The B side’s three shorter pieces overflow with intense, haunted textures that slowly immerse the listener in their murk. If there are supposed to be echoes of London in here, then it’s of shady back alleys, rain-washed streets and gritty urban jungle. On ‘Arcane Matters’, Younger’s oozing haze is punctuated by abrupt bell clangs that toll menacingly over faint samples of children chattering. ‘Stained Glass Electric’ seethes with hissing static and high-pitched noise, like a gale sweeping across London Fields on a December evening, elusive crackles and thuds evoking both rainfall and footsteps in the dark. ‘Above All and Beyond’ ends the album on its most mysterious note, as fizzing bubbles and whistles that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Emeralds album seep out of the shadows, hinting at futuristic visions locked inside Helm’s somber vision.
Luke Younger’s continued development and exploration are fascinating to witness, with each album seemingly more advanced, more adventurous and more unsettling than the last, making his a unique voice in UK noise, one that fits perfectly with the rest of PAN’s exceptional roster.