RA’s Ian Maleney described the last Yves De Mey album, 2016’s Drawn With Shadow Pens, as catching the attention by “refusing to follow a fixed path that might do the work of listening for you.” On its followup, the Belgian producer refines this technique further. Bleak Comfort is about “absence, malfunction and disorientation,” and its pristine synthscapes repeatedly sidestep the expected, forcing you to listen closely for clues to their unusual logic.
Take the opener, “Gruen.” At first it’s a delicate, wintry landscape befitting the album’s title. But at some point its cresting energy dips and pivots towards a new sound, a snatch of singing processed into awkward metallic shapes, and from there the whole thing gets darker and stickier. “Vecta” goes in the other direction. At first it billows and flickers queasily, but it later regroups around bright smears of minor-key synth, which flare and sizzle before peaking in a dazzling high-frequency squeal. De Mey has spent most of this decade manoeuvring deftly around experimental music clichés, and on Bleak Comfort he sounds less constrained than ever.
On “Mika” the kickdrum thud is deadly slow, marking time under a stagnant swirl of metallic clicks and pulses. “Bleak Comfort” is groovier, with an electro flavour, its circling groove recalling De Mey’s work as one half of Sendai. And then there’s “Stale,” which sounds almost playful—not a word you’d typically associate with De Mey – dispelling the fraught mood of kosmische dirge “17 Graves” in a cascade of pinprick melody. That track is the album’s peak. “Wearing Off” dissolves its skittish energy back into the halting rhythms found elsewhere on the album. It’s as if the adrenaline has worn off and we’re hearing the last spasms of an overtaxed nervous system. In which case closer “Contrary Unto Them” is the body shutting down completely—though De Mey can’t resist ending it with a dramatic noise whoosh. Sometimes it’s good to be kept guessing.
Yves De Mey
Vinyl, Digital, Streaming
Dubplates & Mastering, Berlin
Honest Jon’s/The Orchard
Studio Hugo Blanzat
Hugard & Vanoverschelde