When it comes to electronic music producers whose one and only purpose seems to be to bend sounds into all sorts of twisted and tangled shapes, very few of these musicians could be described as accessible and, as such, very few ever break out into the mainstream. There are, however, artists cut from this uber-experimental cloth who have seeped their way into the average music listener’s lexicon, but it can be difficult to find any sort of barometer that determines whose material will resonate with wider audiences and, oftentimes, it seems to be a case of “it’s not what you know, but who you know”. It’s hard, for example, to imagine that an artist such as Arca, with his aesthetically grotesque and sonically esoteric stylings, would have gained nearly as much traction as he has done with many music fans were it not for his work with Björk, Kanye West and FKA twigs. Likewise, although still very much in his prime as a solo musician and with his brand of eclectic and nocturnal electronic music still far from the mainstream, Sinjin Hawke has most definitely been put on the map as a DJ, primarily courtesy of his collaboration with Kanye West on the track Wolves from the eccentric rapper’s most recent record, The Life of Pablo. Yet, there remains a menagerie of underground electronic musicians who manage to put a slightly more accessible twist on their gnarled and knotty soundscapes, to the point that, if given a leg-up in the music world through an association with a bigger artist, could surely make waves in the same way that someone like Arca has. Despite his music being rife with the same genre-hopping, mind-boggling tendencies that one would expect from an artist of his ilk, Irish producer Seamus Mallagh, who debuted under the name Iglooghost on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder record label in 2015 with his Chinese Nü Yr EP, has maintained an odd sense of accessibility to his dizzyingly dense take on wonky. On his debut full-length project, Neō Wax Bloom, Mallagh continues to manufacture digestible madness across 11 new tracks of tortuous technicolour that weave through influences not just from wonky, but also from jazz, psychedelia, hip hop, glitch, UK bass, juke and even the occasional dash of vapourwave. With such abstruse and wide-ranging inspirations coming together in typically entirely linear compositions, the prospect of retaining any semblance of accessibility may seem like a lost cause, but Iglooghost’s sonic conjurings are so colourful that there is much more to appreciate about Neō Wax Bloom than its unhindered insanity. Indeed, in spite of the through-composed structure of most of these pieces, they nevertheless come together stunningly smoothly, as if Iglooghost is guiding the listener through a psychotropic children’s wonderland of bubblegum bass grooves, sugary-sweet synth textures and rubbery rhythms. Few electronic producers could cogently craft the towering, topsy-turvy fantasia that is Neō Wax Bloom in such a way as to keep it seamlessly wound in its haywire nature, yet Mallagh proves that, even across 41 minutes’ worth of material, the polychromatic chaos of his sinuous soundscapes never once comes across as lost in the labyrinth of sounds and styles that comprise the record’s ethos.
As a sonic experience alone, Neō Wax Bloom reaches entirely new heights of giddy lunacy for experimental electronic music, to the point that Iglooghost seems to have forged a universe that is entirely his own. This seems to be what the album artwork is suggesting, as if Neō Wax Bloom exists inside a psychedelic platform game from the future, bursting forth with colourful, moustached, cone-bodied creatures and a gelatinous worm wizard, who produce alien sound waves that manifest themselves as visible squiggles erratically wriggling between celestial planetoids. Indeed, this is a record that will undoubtedly have critics flexing their creative muscles in an attempt to wrap their heads around its mind-bending body of motley sounds that routinely evade description. Once the knots of gnarled and warped auditory tapestry have been untangled, however, the successes of Neō Wax Bloom are rather easy to understand. Iglooghost’s ear for harlequin sound collages extends beyond merely throwing all manner of sounds and styles into a melting point, rather he demonstrates a keen understanding of how to have these multidimensional sources of sound play off one another in endlessly fascinating fashions, whilst his knack for production consistently brings out the richest, deepest and fullest textures that these kaleidoscopic combinations have hidden in all their nooks and crannies. The first 20 seconds alone of a song such as the aptly-titled Super Ink Burst are jam-packed with so many complementary instrumental and textural fusions that it can be hard to decipher the full extent of just how luscious and vibrant of a sonic smorgasbord this is. The buoyant kick drum brings out the ebullient side of the cascading bass fuzz, whilst the skittish snares and percussive swipes are intertwined amidst bubbly bleeps and bloops to fabricate a wild rhythmic pattern that would have the legs of even the most nimble footwork dancer in a tangle. With the sultry wails of swirling saxophone being the cherry on top of this saccharine concoction, Super Ink Burst stands as one of the most delectable displays of hyperkinetic creativity in electronic music that one will likely hear this year. By the very next cut in the tracklisting, Bug Thief, Iglooghost has transported the listener from the world of toadstool trampolines floating on clouds evoked across Super Ink Burst to a flourishing forest filled with flickering fairy lights and mystical fog, with this change of pace being so pronounced as if to mark the listener’s advancement to the next level in the fantasy-based video game that is Neō Wax Bloom. With synth tones that are wispy one second and jangly the next and bass sounds that navigate between deep growls and cascading croaks, whilst the firm rhythms always give the listener’s foot somewhere to fall, Bug Thief remains shrouded in forest-floor ambience and, despite manoeuvring amidst all manner of glitches and contortions, always maintains an air of tranquility that truly sucks the listener into its world. White Gum, meanwhile, could be said to birth an entirely new genre of music, that being bubblegum grime, as Iglooghost works a chipmunked sample of British rapper AJ Tracey into a hotbed of bouncy sub-bass, jittery, rattling percussion, twinkling electronics and chiming synthesizers. Never has a verse from a grime MC been ornamented with so many bells and whistles, all whilst not sounding excessive, but finely detailed and beautifully decorated. From the chilling vocal contributions from returning Iglooghost collaborator Cuushe on Infinite Mint, which sound all the more cherubic against the plinking of pianos and music boxes, to the outbreak of a rubbery trap beat in the middle of Peanut Choker, Neō Wax Bloom is chock-full of resounding textures and tones from so many sources that relaying the entire sonic scope of this project is an arduous task, to say the least. What’s easier to comprehend, however, is just how much staying power this album has, with its soundscapes being so teeming with thick, intense textures that it really rewards multiple listens, which essentially come as a prerequisite for anyone who wishes to even come close to unpacking the full extent of Iglooghost’s attention to detail across the album.
Perhaps more impressive than the depth and detail of Iglooghost’s experiments across Neō Wax Bloom, however, is just how seamlessly these linear compositions come together, despite rattling through passage after passage of densely-packed sonic expanse. Not only is it the case that barely a second is wasted in terms of just how many nuggets of innovation Mallagh manages to work into these cuts, but this is also true with regards to how effectively and naturally nearly every moment across the album contributes to the continuity and fluidity of a piece and, indeed, the project as a whole, which almost reads like one long composition. The opening track, Pale Eyes, converts the initial bubbling serenity of the song’s bright, squeaky vocal samples and smooth bass hums into a tense assortment of whirling synth, sax and string melodies and punctuated bass and percussion, building suspense up perfectly for the release that comes as the first hit of bass fuzz at the beginning of Super Ink Burst busts in. Super Ink Burst itself is one of the most thoroughly-composed tracks on the record, with the spiralling saxophone incidentals stringing the song together, as the percussion dips in and out of pounding, beat-skipping juke rhythms and lumbering thumps that bolster the swells of sub-bass under the misshapen vocal sample. Sōlar Blade squeezes all sorts of striking details amidst its soulful surges of synths, whilst brief flourishes of steelpans, saxophone, guitar and violin are tacked onto one another to form a vibrant, protean embroidery that acts as a well-worked segue into the fidgety, playful vocal sample that is chopped, screwed and served up as the song’s centrepiece. On the more subtle side of the spectrum is Zen Champ, which is underpinned by its bedrock of skittish instrumentation, from the sudden upsurges of jumpy, jolting rhythms to its speedy synth leads and even some math rock-esque guitar noodling, which allows for some slower and smoother countermelodies to be sprinkled over the top, making for many instances of dramatic counterpoint. Indeed, although it is abundantly clear that very little of Neō Wax Bloom was a copy and paste job, Iglooghost achieves a fantastic feeling of fluency throughout the tracklisting, with each individual cut being contained within its own, naturally flowing world, whilst seamlessly contributing to the broader, absurdist and cartoonish universe of the record.
Over the course of Neō Wax Bloom, Iglooghost invites the listener into his world of insanely fast rhythms, obtuse stylistic influences and jungle-like sonic textures, yet he makes them feel completely at home. As arcane and frantic as his stylings may seem on the surface, Mallagh accommodates for a wide audience with the irresistible exuberance and fun-loving nature of his multifaceted, mammoth experimentation. The layers upon layers of cryptic sounds and rhythms may make for somewhat of a slippery slope, which some listeners could find off-putting due to just how demanding the album is in its freneticism, but the ever-present, candy-coated synth melodies, bouncy bass lines and hip hop-wound percussion retain an air of accessibility that permeates much of the record. Indeed, the phrase ‘ear candy’ seems perfectly tailored for describing Neō Wax Bloom, but whilst the aesthetic quality of the album makes for an endlessly gratifying listening experience in and of itself, Mallagh’s musicianship is often most cogently conveyed through his compositional chops, with his abstract tale of a space-dwelling, wormhole-wandering gummy worm called Xiangjiao being fittingly translated through the tracklisting’s fluid structure. Much of the time, however, the appeal of the album is rather straightforward in just how pleasing of a listening experience is crafted through the artist’s arsenal of sweet sounds and body-moving rhythms. Ultimately, Neō Wax Bloom witnesses Iglooghost mould the ruthless technicalities of the most esoteric, eclectic and experimental electronic music into an easily-digestible, psychedelic pill that, when swallowed, transports the listener to a hallucinatory heaven of hyperactive euphoria.
The Vinyl Verdict: 8/10