Relay for Death, the noise(ish) project of twins Rachal and Roxann Spikula, has a brief but exceptionally bizarre history already. For their debut release Birth of an Older, Much More Ugly Christ, they used only the materials recorded in their hospital room during a three-month medical study, resulting in an empty, depressing, yet gripping work. Then, after a five-year hiatus, they released both of these late last year. The two releases are distinctly different from each other, but both uniquely brilliant and fascinating in their discomfort.
Natural Incapacity is clearly the more difficult of the two releases. What is essentially a two hour and 16 minute composition (split across two CDs, which also includes a code to download it as an unbroken piece), the sisters Spikula focus on field recordings taken throughout their current home of Richmond, California, documenting the pollution and environmental decay perfectly via audio. Unsurprisingly it is not among the most pleasant of sounds, and is nicely accompanied visually by a heavy, rusted metal plate that doubles as the cover art.
The piece is immediately introduced via sloshing noises into a rattling loop; quite obviously a train that itself seems to be rattling on in a precarious state of disrepair. Incidental sounds are captured as well, but of far less obvious sources. The two shift the mix here and there, at times to emphasize the heavy low end sounds, at others a bit lighter and less oppressive. Even though the source material is obviously field recordings, either their placement in the mix or tasteful processing lead to some of the piece sounding entirely unnatural and hard to identify. The second half of the piece begins with sharp, fizzing like sounds cutting through, but the rest is similar, concluding with a nice false conclusion. At first it sounds like a simple unmoving wall of noise, but upon closer inspection there is quite a bit going on.
- Natural Incapacity (Part One, Excerpt One)
- Natural Incapacity (Part One, Excerpt Two)
- Natural Incapacity (Part Two)
Anxiety of the Eye, however, is a more diverse and varied work. Again, the tape is constructed entirely from field recordings, this time from the desolation of Death Valley, California, but there is more in the way of changing dynamics and varied source material. "Anxiety of the Eye" leads off with a weird buzzing pattern that almost sounds like an old computer data cassette, complete with the pseudo-rhythms that end up being perceptible. Afterwards more evident recordings can be heard: crickets and rushing water but offset by some big, reverberating bangs that are almost percussive (but not rhythmic). Past that the duo trade in echoing, metallic noise bursts punctuated with expansive spaces, concluding the piece with crunching textured loops and sputtering electronic-like sounds.
For "Western Sensorium," the mood is a bit more ominous. Erratic tones underscore what sounds like swarms of locusts, with the foreboding elements staying more sustained. Later what sounds like a mass of ringing bells and synth-like noises pop up, staying nice and varied within this structure. Considering the source of this material, the Spikulas capture the vastness and depth of the environment exceptionally well just with the audio. The latter portions of the composition have a dreamlike drift quality to them, with the occasional shrill noise burst (like on the other half) before fading off bleakly.
Both of these new Relay for Death albums showcase the unique sounds and structures of Rachal and Roxann Spikula, but each one focuses on different approaches. Natural Incapacity is the most audacious of the two, both for its length and intentionally static sound. Anxiety of the Eye is more diverse, but also less commanding and forceful in its structure. Each is excellent and complement one another however, so there is no way I can rate one as any better than the other. They may not be pleasant in the traditional sense, but I know I enjoyed both quite a lot.