Phonothek was one of my favorite projects last year, Lost in Fog was one of the first albums that I looked at and tried to analyze. Since then, I have been eager to get another crack at a Phonothek album. My wish came true just a few days ago with the release of Red Moon on the ever magnificent Cryo Chamber. Red Moon continues thematic where Lost in Fog left off, with the decay of the planet itself. The catastrophic effects have only grown in the time that we’ve been away from this apocalyptic world. What is the red moon? What does it represent? The dramatic use of color for Phonothek’s song tiles here is a sharp contrast to the drab and grey sounds of the previous album, what does that mean for the narrative? Phonothek’s style teeters between drone and doom jazz, utilizing an array of atonal instrumentation and field recordings to make manifest a terrifying nightmare.
Since I last reviewed something created by the Georgian duo, I’ve learned a lot about doom jazz, and dark ambient in general. I was a novice when I wrote about Lost in Fog and, while I’m still far from being a master, now I think I can appreciate the amazing subtlies that make up a Phonothek album.
Red Moon is a very organic album. What I mean by organic in this sense is that nothing here is symmetrical or even. There is a saying, “God doesn’t build in straight lines,” well neither does Phonothek. All of the music is played at random here, there’s no rhythm or beat, not even in the dark ambient sense (which actually makes a difference). Each song’s structure is completely nonexistent, it’s a stream of consciousness. And yet, that stream of consciousness is detailed, precise, and delicate. Never once did the sound feel chaotic, it was always under some sort of control.
So what is the Red Moon? In the literal sense, a red moon is both another name for a full moon and the color of a moon during an eclipse. How does that, then, relate to the album and the Red Moon of story? If the cover art means anything (and it so often does) then the Red Moon is the central object that represents the death of the planet. If you are a fan of Magic the Gathering you may understand the term “Eldritch Moon” and it’s applicability here. For those of you who aren’t in the know, Eldritch Moon was a recent MtG card set that featured a plane’s moon becoming possessed (more or less) by an abomination that comes straight out of Lovecraft’s dreams. The thing then wreaks havoc on the molecular and mental state of the entire plane itself. There’s no hint of some Lovecraftian monster at work in Red Moon, but there is that same sense of dread and power emanating from the moon. The trumpet, my favorite instrument on the entire album, plays an ode to the moon each chance it gets, glorifying it in all its mysterious terror. Once again, it’s not an overt terror, more a subtle misgiving about it as the album goes on. The further the listener travels through the album the more desperate and terrified they become. Is it the moon, or is it just a mass trick on the minds of the people? There is something in the Red Moon. But what is it?
Despite an impressive array of sounds and instruments, Phonothek’s sound never comes close to industrial, giving a lot of meaning to the story itself. It is not our machines that are destroying this earth, it’s not the industrialization of the world that will be end of it. Instead of industrial sounds, Phonothek uses a host of organic, earthy sounds and tones. The earth is reclaiming itself. Is this the death of the planet or the death of the things on it? It is my belief, after listening to the album several times and giving it as much in-depth thought as I could, that that the death of the planet does not mean it’s destruction, not yet at least. Why do I think that? Well, Phonothek aren’t a space ambient band with cosmic themes, rather the themes they use are more earth bound, natural themes, they use distorted human voices, organic instruments, and field recordings to create a very down to earth album. Also, Red Moon features some work with Cities Last Broadcast and KeOSz, two ambient projects I have the utmost respect for.
The use of color on the album cover and in the titles (Yellow Forest, Red Moon, and Cry from the Abyss, yes I consider that a color in this context) furthers my belief that the earth is not dying in the album but being reborn. Color is often neglected when describing a dead or dying world, instead adjective often used refer to its temperature, its barren-ness. Colors like Red, Yellow, and Black are definitely not positive, rebirth is never a painless thing, but they are colors nonetheless, beacons in an otherwise sea of colorlessness.
One thing I think this demonstrates is the applicability of the music. Is what I found what the artists intended? Probably not, maybe, but not likely. Each listener can delve into this music and find something else. Once they hear the music, the sounds are up for their interpretation. It is the listener that controls the meaning. Each time I’ve listened to the album it has felt different. The first listen felt vast and atmospheric, the second felt claustrophobic, the third felt like a morality play set to a harsh noir jazz score, and so on. Each listen reveals something new, each listen will feel different and each listener will see something that no one else, possibly not even the artist themselves, has seen. That’s the beauty of dark ambient storytelling, there is so much in the mind of the listener, it just takes a good artist to nudge them in the right direction. Phonothek are excellent storytellers. Red Moon was everything I had hoped for during the last year. It met every one of my expectations and more.
One thing I have known about Phonothek since my first review nearly a year ago, is that they tell a story in subtlety better than anyone else. Without have to resort to overt field recordings, Phonothek has managed to tell a story that is intimate and personal. The story is not an outlandish, feel good adventure story, but a deeply melodramatic tale of survival and the place emotions have when the world and society are crumbling into nothing. Red Moon is terrifying and wonderful in its scope, encompassing such a swath of emotions that the music feels as though it was taken directly from the minds of its creators rather than composed. Phonothek have been amongst my favorite dark ambient artists for quite some times, Red Moon only cements their legacy.
Highlights: Yellow Forest, Red Moon, In the Smell of the Wolves
If you enjoyed this try these: Manet, Nan Morlith, Valanx
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