Oren Ambarchi’s last album, Quixotism (2014) was a suite in five parts with diverse elements, including an array of bowed sounds and glints of Feldman-esque piano, all tightly wedded to a sleekit pulse of digital minimalism, compelling enough to override the sense that John Tilbury’s piano and some of the other ingredients may be little more than classy garnish.
The follow-up, Hubris, delivers a similar suite of developments, variations and embellishments tied to a single ideation, but it also reconnects with the more driven rhythmic imperative of 2012’s Sagittarian Domain, and has a far more emphatic impact.
Sagittarian Domain connected Ambarchi’s trademark drums-driven, Leslie-whorled, layered-and-laminate guitar grooves to Krautrock, minimalism and techno, so the disco throb that introduces Hubris‘ “Part 1” is a logical extension.
Another acknowledged influence on Hubris is Ambarchi’s affection for 80s new wave group Wang Chung, specifically that group’s soundtrack for William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A.. And sure enough, there is a clear derivation connection to the streamlined synthetic/mechanistic funk of a track such as (my pick) “Black-Blue-White“.*
Hubris is more confined to a single vision than Quixotism, and has just three parts, of which “Part 2” is a short interlude between longer movements.
“Part 1” builds slowly and implacably, with stroboscopic synth- and electric guitar. The latter is palm-muted for a clinical, un-burred sound, and the combined effect is an ear-snagging hallucinatory pulsation, inducing close listening to subtle modulations and careful layering: first of Jim O’Rourke’s unflashy guitar synth fills, then the motoric reinforcement of Konrad Sprenger’s motor guitar and a strand of harpsichord-like strumming, and finally the gossamer cymbal fizz and robotic thump of Mark Fell’s electronic percussion.
All merge on-stream, coursing one sleek, fluent and irrepressible rhythm, all subservient to the overriding drive. But there’s a careful paring back of elements at the quarter hour mark, ahead of a momentary pause before the fresh sonorities of “Part 2”, which is a lovely interlude, showcasing Jim O’Rourke’s deftly cellular picking on six-string bass guitar replete with finger slides, and a muted dialogue between Ambarchi and Crys Cole.
Intermission over, “Part 3” picks up where “Part 1” left off, as microhouse auteur Ricardo Villalobos and twin percussionists Joe Talia and Will Guthrie expand Hubris‘ sonic canvass with dual kit drumming and metronomic minimal techno. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Villalobos integrating a microhouse sound into Ambarchi’s long-form motoric so seamlessly.
From here Hubris grows into one of those indubitably loud, ambience-subsuming productions, a booming, vertiginous wave of single-chord-change variations. Stir in gurgling and burbling synth courtesy of Keith Fullerton Whitman, the rad guitar static of New York No-Wave pioneer Arto Lindsay (nothing so disruptive as his trademark spasmic slashing), and Ambarchi’s own Leslie-amplifed tremolo, and Ambarchi’s cooked up a roiling techtonic bitches brew of steadily-thrumming, polyrhythmic funk/fusion: giddy, head-spinning stuff, orchestrated with martial restraint.
Oren Ambarchi guitars, voice; Crys Cole voice; Mark Fell computer; Will Guthrie drums; Arto Lindsay guitar; Jim O’Rourke synth, guitar synth; Konrad Sprenger motor guitars; Joe Talia drums, bass; Ricardo Villalobos electronic drum rhythms, electronics; Keith Fullerton Whitman synth.
Buy Hubris direct from Editions Mego.
*On a personal note of nostalgia, I saw Huang Chung, as they were then known, at brewers Theakstons’ Festival in Yorkshire, in 1982. They were second on stage just after 3pm, after Marillion, before Lindisfarne, Blues Band and headline act Jethro Tull. They didn’t go down too well.