Album Review: Kelly Moran / Prurient – Chain Reaction At Dusk

[Hospital Productions; 2020]

Kelly Moran and Prurient are both dissidents, so the prospect of these two joining forces sparked the likelihood of hearing some gratifyingly unnerving sounds. Throughout her discography, Moran has rejected the dogmatic neoclassical teachings to carve out her own individualist vernacular with prepared pianos. Meanwhile, Dominick Fernow is more or less a poster child of musical insurgence, introducing the grand paganism of metal into electronic music with Prurient, and imbuing more bluster and lark within the cerebral canon of noise and power electronics as Vatican Shadow.

Indeed, by introducing their combined creative powers in the form of split EP, with Moran contributing three tracks followed by two from Prurient on the b-side, Chain Reaction At Dusk does strike as one giant tease. Both Moran and Fernow both hang their hat on collaboration: the former worked with Oneohtrix Point Never, Kelsey Lu and FKA Twigs, whereas the latter kicks it with the likes of Justin Broadrick and Wolf Eyes. The prospect of their talents coalescing in a more immediate space continues to entertain the thought, but nevertheless, in this year of a thousand ‘could have been’s, let’s just cherish what we have, shall we?

On Kelly Moran’s side, “Red Storm” swells with an empyrean grace as she plays a fractured, contemplative sequence of notes. Just the sound of the piano here is satisfying in and of itself: it has an organic, almost ashen brittleness to it, yet it still sounds super space age as well, recalling some of the more mellow instrumentals on Aphex Twin’s Drukqs. On her fantastic 2018 Warp release Ultraviolet, Moran basically put a magnifying glass over her own prowess as an improviser, adding new color and texture to give the songs the weight of big orchestrated pieces. I don’t know why, but I interpreted it as an aural expression of self-care, or perhaps a nourishment of her own neuroses and impulses.

The aptly-titled “Helix III” is a beautifully-synced tango between piano and synth arpeggios, which for some reason inspires thoughts of a digital and analog self reconciling within a single human being. “Hymn” once again courts more hallowed ambient moods, unfettering with a plaintive, meandering respite between the polished synth-piano tones and the more frayed, metallic tones of its organic deserter. This is music that scrambles and broods in solitude, a fractured entity slumbering within its impasse.

On Chain Reaction At Dusk‘s back half, Prurient showcases his own ingenuity at expressing a sense of alienation and disconnect. “Tokyo Exorcist” leans on lulling sequencers and severed vocal clips, sounding utterly desolate and bleak, as if witnessing the last faint human remnants in a fully-automated world. “Help If I May Ask” brandishes Prurient’s penchant for raging out a wee bit more, unleashing a warzone of hissing static and eerie flickering tube light-impressionism. His contributions to this record definitely feel a lot more dispassionate than Moran’s, summoning a foreboding doom-laden atmosphere.

Attempting to tie together a narrative or inch of logic around Chain Reaction At Dusk feels like a fool’s errand, as both Prurient and Kelly Moran are career abstractionists who cultivate chaos over continuity, expertly manipulating music as a source code for human expression. Though I have detected a big common denominator – their roots in and fondness for death and black metal – which may or may not be a revealing element in this project. Chain Reaction At Dusk too alludes to both the spiritual and the nihilistic, as both musicians appear to tentatively pursue a flicker of illumination within these fresh experimentations, albeit diffident on fully intertwining their respective paths as artists. It remains unclear what this particular chain reaction is supposed to lead to, but one can hope it leads to something a little brighter and more spectacular – like them creating some music together.