City Paper is not for tourists.
Percussion is hardly the first thing associated with drone music, but there it is, keeping things steady on Side A of this new split LP by Earthen Sea and Insect Factory. Across a 19-minute unnamed minimalist piece, Earthen Sea layers pleasant crepuscular tones, suggesting a place or time that knows bliss but could be headed in another direction. The answer might be in the beat.
Yeah, the beat. Underneath the drones is a broad, muffled drumming sound—if “drumming” is even the right concept here—that could be a highly filtered timpani or maybe just a tape warp that’s been turned into a pulse. Could it represent a highway bridge far above a misty canyon, with the thrum of tires interrupted by seams in the concrete? Could it be a distant battle? The march of progress? Earthen Sea is the San Francisco-based Jacob Long, who was in Dischord band Black Eyes and its offshoot Mi Ami, two groups that reveled in percussion. In this moment, it seems like all of that is echoing on the other side of the world. (His Ocean Beach release from May has a heavier vibe, but similar undercurrents of rhythm.)
The two unnamed tracks of Side B feel like a direct response by Insect Factory—the solo project of Silver Spring noisemaker Jeff Barsky—to all the mood-making/narrative-suggesting that Earthen Sea is doing down on the surface of the planet. First up is an 11-minute squall that’s based on a persistent high-pitched tone and flecked with bursts of distortion. Logic says it should be an absolute pain to listen to, but it’s not. The squeal never recedes, but the rest of the composition slyly distracts from it. It’s ultimately about what Barsky builds with the louder, chunkier fragments of noise: There’s an organization happening here; things are clicking in the clouds.
Any denouement comes in Side B’s second track, which is simply Barsky developing figures on electric guitar for about four minutes. It’s deliberately musical, with notes from B-minor and D-Major chords conversing as if the album’s previous 30 minutes of uncertainty demand some overtly human debate. It’s pretty, but it also feels ephemeral—notes that go up the stairs, out the window, and dissolve in the sunlight.