EPs seem to be the format of choice for the current wave of up-and-coming producers of experimental laptop-based electronic music. Perhaps it’s because there is seemingly less pressure upon the release of an EP in comparison to an album, or because it allows artists to get their music out more quickly. Whatever it is, the format here has allowed Tom Marshallsay, who has already recorded one full-length under the Dam Mantle moniker, to produce his longest and most daring tracks to date.
Just looking at some of the track titles on this EP (“Somnambulate My Dear,” “Meet Me In The Ambulance”) can tell you a lot about the state of mind that it’s best to have while listening. These tracks are designed for the listener to engross themselves within and become cut off from whatever else is around. The multiple layers of beats, harmonics, and vocal samples can become seductive when used to their maximum effect. I’m sure Marshallsay would encourage you to disconnect from all your bodily functions except from listening and bouncing your head for the perfect listening experience.
We EP begins with the colossal ten-minute title track, moving through several phases. The first starts with a simple wooden clicking before the typical thudding bass starts to drive the song. Rapidly ascending and descending notes flit over the surface with washes of synths moving smoothly in and out. Mid-way a vocal sample is incorporated into the mix. The slowed-down, dragged out effect makes it jar next to the fast-paced sheen of the noises around it, and this section of the song is lamentable. Fortunately the sample, and nearly everything else, is scrapped around the seven-minute mark to leave just a haunting synth. The song then quickly picks up once more to kick in to “We” mk. 2, which incorporates some featherlight guitars and clanging bells. In fact, so much happens over the course of “We”’s 10 minutes that it is the perfect song to make you realise how futile it is to try to describe this kind of cerebral electronic music in words.
To assume that this EP is just “We” with a trio of throwaway b-sides tacked on is really quite unfair. “Somnambulate My Dear” seems to be so named because the track seems to have been created with the purpose of provoking the listener into a wonderful, trance-like state. The whale-like noises and floating keys that are the highlight of the track make the listener want to drift into a state of syncopy. So mesmerising are they that you almost forget that there is an erratic beat driving straight through the middle. “Not A Word” is a little more obvious in its approach, with lyrics about monsters and a creeping synth line over ominous chimes. Relative to some of the other tracks here it might not be as detailed, but on a release as dense as this it can be refreshing, especially as the concluding track.
The only track that fails to capture any sort of imagination within the listener is “Meet Me In The Ambulance.” The song is built around a series of gradually speeding up clicks, which then have added to them a series of uninteresting textures. Sat between a neat set of tracks that seem well thought out and keep you guessing, this one seems more predictable.
Despite all of the tracks here being as dense as anything released under the Dam Mantle guise before, the variance in sounds and textures is less varied. This sounds like a step backwards, but it actually works to the EP’s advantage. Where some EPs can be scattershot due to their being made up of leftover or undercooked tracks, We remains cohesive. Whether this style would hold up over a whole album is unclear, but all that matters is that we’ve got an intoxicating set of songs here, presented in a more digestible dose.