On the surface, it would seem quite easy to do what Oscar Powell does. Layer […]
On the surface, it would seem quite easy to do what Oscar Powell does. Layer some disjointed drum loops—preferably swiped from a no-wave record—with bursts of noise and static, throw in some dissonant synthesizer and maybe a snarky spoken word sample, and one ought to have a facsimile of one of his tracks. The London-based producer has a formula, no doubt, but it is far more complicated than it appears. Powell‘s tracks are surely minimalist in focus, but are also, as he has attested in interviews, subject to meticulous editing. Both no wave and the industrial techno he has sometimes been grouped with are known for frenetic, one-take approaches. Powell, meanwhile, is an expert in control, and his sound harkens to jungle’s tensile rhythms, or maybe even a spartan version of microhouse. Earlier records obfuscated these charms, sounding muddier and more inert than the untitled, studiously funky EP he released on The Death of Rave earlier in the year. Fizz, his first 12″ for Liberation Technologies, is every bit as essential a listen, if not more.
The title track zooms around a mainline of cranky Suicide-esque organ, globular pulses, and odd guitar twangs, but the kickdrum is its engine. Powell pads it so it smacks with every hit, and eventually tumbles it over itself, thundering along with a physicality that is so blunt it virtually drowns out the track’s teeming, almost concrète background detailing. Any listener who has ever felt their body riddled by a machine-gun jack pattern but now finds standard jacking house to be a cliché ought to be involuntarily punching the air on this one. “Wharton Tiers On Drums” presumably samples the titular drummer, best known for his work in Theoretical Girls. It uses a similar sound set as “Fizz,” but is less immediate, meandering through a loopy background as Powell’s imaginary drummer and bassist struggle to synchronize. A snare clambers into the mix, there is a voice as if a bandleader has just shuddered an order, and everything shuts down. And then the artist’s rhythmic genius is at work again, as his drums lock into a chugging, bulldozer thrust before melding with a high, ghostly tone and synths that crackle and gurgle like they’re short-circuiting. “Beats” is of course a bonus beat, but it nonetheless has all the chiseled force of its companions. These pieces course with visceral energy. For the moment, Powell is totally peerless, and while he references bygone eras, his tracks represent the cutting edge of precision-engineered body music.