[Holy Page; 2013]

Sam Hatzaras is a tough man to pin down.  Between the electronic bluster and decay of his work as Chains Made of Chalk and the bubbling synth experiments he creates in Ectoplasm, Hatzaras filters the tendencies of recent circuital music through the fractured lens of his own influences.  William Basinski, Tim Hecker, and analog maven Ellen Allien all come together in a mishmash of creative byways to produce something intriguing, original, and wholly bereft of artifice.  And though some of his ideas do outstrip his grasp at times, the sheer joy of making these often disparate sounds comes through clearly on IV, a new EP under his Chains Made of Chalk moniker, which is out now on Baltimore-based label Holy Page.

As infectious and immediate as pop music can be, tonal experiments in knob twiddling, densely filtered electronics face a steeper access point for some listeners.  There are oftentimes fewer ear-tugging melodies and a dearth of vocal harmonies or pliable layers of instrumentation for the audience to latch onto.  This doesn’t mean that the music is any less memorable or impressive, given its synthetic nature, but you can occasionally come across electronic music that simply doesn’t resonate in any meaningful way with listeners. Thankfully though, IV lands squarely within the realm of relatable rhythmic experimentation, and thanks to Hatzaras’ campfire mentality, the four original tracks here (not including a remix of “Rain,” a song by fellow electronic experimenters Denmother) come across far more communal and inclusive than many of his DIY-minded musical peers.

IV opens with “The Universe Is Indifferent,” a gurgling, synth-decayed slice of homebrew electronics that never quite establishes any sort of rhythmic orientation and feels as though it’s a series of good ideas looking for a better context.  That being said, the “series of good ideas” is really strong and hints at something much grander from Hatzaras in the future.  But music like this rises and falls on the strengths of singular moments—the wisp of a slowly turned synth here or a seemingly random piece of half-formed melody there—and he definitely knows how to make these moments count.  Follow-up track “Hold On” seems to have learned from the album’s opener and feels fully formed and pushed to the limits of its electronic medium.  Hatzaras juggles disembodied synths and disintegrating beats, while allowing each layer of instrumentation to gradually and organically spool apart.  Nothing is tossed in, or taken out, just for the sake of exploring every momentary inspiration.  And even if the sounds sometimes seem to be random fluctuations of the machinery that’s in use, there is always a guiding hand felt behind these electrical degradations.

“A Tubular Paper Coffin Stuffed With Dried Plant Matter” is a mash of distortion-soaked synths and broken beats that finds itself slowly morphing into an examination of primitive industrial rhythms and fluttering instrumentation.  Sounding like a lost instrumental from Tricky’s Maxinquaye years, it shows a side of Hatzaras that had only been hinted at before.  Yes, he likes to meander a bit and his compositions can sometimes feel too unstructured, but there is a dark harmonic life that simmers to the surface here that is fascinating to watch.  Interstitially-minded track “Exhausted” tosses metallic gurgles back and forth between a thudding percussion that snaps your neck to attention.  But it ends before it gets a chance to really explore these sounds with any real detail, and so it feels a bit like a step back from the previous track.

His remix of Denmother’s “Rain” is interesting if a bit monotone, as his drones stretch out in serpentine patterns without really going anywhere.  There is an appreciation of the ethos involved without any real attachment to the music itself. But thankfully, the original material here more than speaks to Hatzaras’ fundamental understanding of the circuit boards and exposed wires that thread themselves throughout his work as Chains Made of Chalk.  And while some direction needs to be given to the more loosely constructed songs on IV, it’s hard to fault the obvious love that he has for these wired sounds.  And as the synthetic notes unfurl around him, that passion is what holds these songs together.

Grade: 72%