Collaborations can lead to mixed results but for a feverishly busy and imaginative set of artists, it can be prospectively tempting without ever caring too much about the end result. The math isn’t always simple though: two positives don’t always make for an expectedly good outcome (Tortoise & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, PJ Harvey & John Parish), while a negative personality can be taken out of hated (or at least lacklustre) musical depths by a positive counterpart (Brian Eno and Coldplay, Damon Albarn and Gorillaz saving Shaun Ryder from continued obscurity with “Dare” back in 2005). And heck, sometimes the math is right and two negatives do make a positive (…I’ll get back to you on that). Sometimes, however, it just seems better to leave people to their own devices instead of having others interrupt their coherent musical process.
With Octogasm – a collaboration between Sleep In’s Hamish Duncan and also Sydney based Leon Conolly – the result is hard to define and this mainly comes down to the fact that I’m not sure what Leon Conolly – who’s other work I’m not familiar with – is bringing to the table. If both these guys are behind the decks (or keyboards) it can be hard to tell who’s exactly in the driving seat, if indeed anyone is driving at all. At times the record can seem like it’s drifting on aimlessly, like it’s been left to stew while the creators go make a cup of tea or something. And that isn’t necessarily meant to be a derogatory statement because there are moments on the record which seem to blossom and develop naturally, like chemicals reacting in a test tube with no involvement from outside sources other than some technicians pouring in the initial substances. The ethereal “Cathedral” begins with crackling organ before the background fizzes to the front and a beat emerges before seemingly evaporating its initial source altogether. “Nayan ID” begins with hazy and gloopy sounds swirling around and doesn’t change a great deal but its ambiguous sound makes it the brief but strangely engrossing ambient piece that it is.
I’ll admit that upon my first few listens I found it increasingly hard to get into this record. Despite the fun (but way too brief) opener “Teatree” where the danceable beats are at their best, it seems to branch out in unexpected directions full of cut and paste moments with little exploration of one idea. And in a nutshell, after twenty or so listens, I would be hard pressed to not describe Octogasm in the same way. Near enough half the tracks are barely two minutes long and can feel like ideas were thrown in for the sheer fun of it. Nonetheless, there is a strange sense of organization to it all that can be impressionable. Despite its seemingly random nature, the flow of the album can become more easily likeable than most of those two minutes sound skits.
That said, the longer tracks here do deliver the best moments within the album runtime. When “Aquarium” has a steady beat dropped into it towards the end, the shaky rhythms all seem to come together. “Harlet” has a familiar and airy feel to it as it stutters up and down with its wordless vocal clips while album highlight “Strawberry” keeps the listener in with the way it manages to feel both natural and manmade. The constant high-hat hits bring forth one of the cleanest and simplest beats before giving way to a twinkling piano sample and a vocalist singing “This ain’t our home” over and over. Compared to the rest of the record it doesn’t feel like familiar territory and it might well be the only time it could pass for something right from a hip-hop record as their band name suggests.
But for all its curious and seemingly random moments, part of me can’t help but making the easy generalization and hearing this as another Sleep In record. The elements from Hamish Duncan’s beat driven shoegaze ambient records like Raining Glass and Blackwidow are all here and heck, even “EOD Rhythm” sounds like the estranged brother of Blackwidow highlight “Mother Russia” with its Soviet-like vocal samples, deep beats and buzzing synths. But even if it is the Sleep In connection that makes you investigate this record then don’t feel bad because at the very least it can help paint a clearer picture of the kind of ever-changing mind of Hamish Duncan. And it’s just as interesting to see how he works when he brings another mind into the mix. Even if you can’t tell who’s driving for the majority of Octogasm, it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get somewhere. And even if you crash (or end up in a big fight like last track “Show You Some” does), you’ll have likely seen some interesting sights along the way.