I don’t know about anyone else, but nothing gets my head bobbing faster than a good chilled out groove. Nothing too fancy about it, just a sweet bass line and drums that direct the rhythms without taking over a mix. It’s that kind of combination that is somehow just innately entrancing to all humans. It’s like a primal instinct. The rhythm just takes you over because of its simplicity. You don’t need fancy dancing shoes to just sway back and forth to a melody where you can hear all parts of a track. And the best part about these kinds of lines is the fact that you can make it more interesting with just a few extra pieces and nothing more. True artists know that it isn’t always about overindulgence. Sometimes simplicity is the way to go.
Few bands understand this idea better than Insect Ark. Less is more, as they often say, and much of this minimalist approach was developed out of necessity. Starting out as bassist Dana Schechter’s solo project, there was only so much a single person could do on their own. Schechter created some very unique drone doom tracks by herself, frequently employing electronics and lap steel guitar. The sound expanded a bit with the inclusion of drummer Ashley Spungin, adding depth to already extremely deep and introspective tracks. The duo created 2018’s Marrow Hymns, an extremely heady example of psychedelic drone doom. Spungin split from Insect Ark in August 2019 and was replaced by former SubRosa drummer Andy Patterson, and this duo worked together to produce this year’s The Vanishing.
Going through this record, a quote from the band’s Bandcamp page kept coming back up to me: “The Vanishing is not a work for the faint of heart.” A revolving series of images crawled through my head during each track. Different flashes of unsettling moments and uncomfortable feelings slink through your mind. “Philae” felt like an uncomfortable dream scene from a David Lynch movie to me. There’s a dreaminess to it, mainly from the production values. But combined with musical lines that don’t resolve themselves, they feel like uncomfortable thoughts from deep within your subconscious. While it may sound like a negative criticism, I actually believe this to be an achievement few artists really achieve. It takes the true expression of a deeply held emotion to illicit that kind of response in a listener. There’s a discomforting violence to much of the music that touches you deeply. It’s quite rare and incredible.
Schechter has also said this record was inspired by the thought of disappearing completely. To me, that’s a very lonely thought. To disappear completely is the ultimate isolation. In that sense, The Vanishing does have a very lonely feeling throughout. Each track has some sense of being alone. The songs feel cavernous and overwhelm you, making you feel small and on edge. There’s no one else around to help ease the tension. You are completely on your own as the drums and bass echo into the empty distance.
The Vanishing is simply continuing down the path Schechter had when she first started recording as Insect Ark. I say simply only because there’s no other way to describe it. It’s like an exploration of this very specific style. What can I do with this? Where could this idea lead? The addition of Patterson only strengthens the resolve to commit to ideas. The Vanishing shows that records can still feel and music can be more than just some sounds put together. It’s very easy to disappear into it. Take the invitation to do so.
The Vanishing is available Feb. 28 via Profound Lore Records.