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Water Borders

Harbored Mantras

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Label: Tri Angle

The ambitious project from San Francisco duo Amitai Heller and Loric Sih combines sounds from analog machines and a sample bank that draws on textures from Africa, India and the Middle East. Sonic pictures of night scenes and mysterious micro narratives come woven inside the moody ambiance and waterlogged bass that make up this drifting, medieval-tone invoked debut.

Harbored Mantras arrives during the reemergence of dark pop, buoyed in large part by the Tri Angle label based in New York City and London. Perhaps one of their more unexpected pick ups, Water Borders deviates from their imprint siblings Balam Acab, Holy Other and OoOoo. While there is plenty of digital murk and despondent late night bass on Harbored Mantras to make sense of Tri Angle’s attraction to Water Borders, the San Francisco project looks ahead of reapproprating seminal hip-hop and R&B. Swaying 808 bass beats and distinctively preferred low-dropping digital toms are arranged along the spines of a tribal song structures. Quietly ritualistic and emphatically rhythmic, the Water Borders type of pound sounds more like a cult’s meditation on Balearic aesthetics rather than a chopped and screwed rendition of Wu Tang’s 36 Chambers.

Harbored Mantras moves consistently through the duo’s collection of sounds sourced from world beats integrated consistently on each track with an analog range of synthesizers and drum machines. Their careful synthesis fits neatly into modest durations ranging from four to six minutes. Digestible but not necessarily accessible, these song were conceived at a time when people are hungry for more conceptual darkness and for more music less obvious to dance in the fog of a smoke machine.

“Bad Ethos” recalls the Knife’s Silent Shout in its sculpting with deceptively repetitive big vocals matched with big synths- an idea thought previously outmoded by the 1980s. But Harbored Mantras is not just a collection of dark 1980s industrial sounds and production restored. Heller and Sih’s sonic nightmare is watermarked with their own weird and hellish quality, enough not to marginalize them as revivalists with markedly esoteric tastes in music. Even though they feel mostly like personal assertions through music, “Even in the Dark” and “Seed Bank” are memorable for their calm and lonely atmospheric thrusting among the rest of the tracks, all bearing a cult-forward sensibility, felt especially with Heller’s snaky baritone vox.

Those aware of the reemergence of the dark industrial scene will readily observe Water Borders as forerunners of witch house but there is not much of a productive parallel comparison to be made with Water Borders and the nebulous genre, often lazily tagged with artists marrying dark and dance using sampled percussion today.

by Sky Madden

Feasting on Mongeese (unmastered) by Water Borders

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