I truly never know quite what to expect from erstwhile Starving Weirdo Brian Pyle, as his Ensemble Economique project has covered plenty of shifting territory with varying results over the last decade. His albums are certainly always intriguing and often deliciously aberrant, but I have not been truly knocked sideways since 2011's Crossing The Path, By Torchlight. With In Silhouette, his 12th album, Pyle steps away from his recent forays into darkwave to plunge back into the unapologetically hallucinatory and warped terrain that I love best. He has not entirely jettisoned his dark pop instructs though, as In Silhouette's deep psychedelia is enhanced by host of whispering and mysterious female voices. While not every piece quite captures Pyle at his zenith, In Silhouette is cinematic in the best sense of the word, as it feels like being plunged completely (and uncomfortably) into a noirish and Lynchian world of shadow, menace, and dark sexuality.
The opening epic "In the Clear Blue Water of Memory" instantly makes it clear that In Silhouette is going to be quite an unnerving, sinister, and challenging mindfuck of an album. Joined by Editions Mego artist Jung an Tagen, Pyle unleashes a roiling miasma of breathy, backwards female voices; ghostly "horror movie" choral touches; evocative field recordings; and nervously stuttering and skittering synthesizers. Stretching out for over 20 minutes, "Clear Blue Water" is a complexly layered and shifting haze of eerie moods and sputtering textures that often sounds like a séance being fitfully drowned out by an apocalyptic plague of extra-dimensional crickets. Other times, it feels like a bad dream set in a vast empty factory or deserted boatyard. In either case, there is no respite to Pyle's gleefully blackened onslaught of bad vibes. If the piece has a fault, it is only that Pyle is content to amorphously drift and undulate for the duration rather than ever blossoming into something more structured or melodic. It still works though, as there is a compelling dynamic arc in its endless ebb and flow and a truly bewildering amount of activity. It somehow manages to be simultaneously nerve-jangling and completely immersive, which is quite a tricky feat to pull off. I am very much the target demographic for disturbing uneasy listening in this vein, of course, but an entire album of it would be absolutely exhausting and overwhelming, so I was somewhat relieved that the remaining four pieces dialed back the deranged intensity a bit. Visiting a nightmare is always preferable to living in one.
Actually, the following "Battle Cry" might be even more malicious in intent, but it is at least mercifully shorter. Built upon a thick and menacing synth motif and a tense backdrop of howling winds, ominous crackling, and dissonant howling harmonies, it sounds like it belongs over the slowly panning opening shot of an absolutely soul-scorching horror film. Curiously, "Gonna Get Right With God" sounds like a thinly veiled variation on the exact same motif, but with a somewhat different mood due to the emphasis on an echoing female voice (French?) and the muted, erratic pulse of a drum machine. In a way, Pyle seems to be embracing a very post-melody aesthetic, as large swaths of In Silhouette feel like the fruit of a monomaniacal obsession with the same one or two chords. Those chords admittedly sound impossibly dense and harmonically rich, so I cannot blame him–especially since their menacing foundation is so skillfully embellished with swelling, flanging, and undulating dynamics and dissonant harmonies. Appropriately, however, "I Can See The Light" breaks the spell to let in a small amount of light in the form of an ascending flute-like theme. Naturally, a dark undercurrent remains, but it is more of a melancholy and mysterious darkness than a "a John Carpenter soundtrack has come to life and is standing over my bed with butcher knife” darkness. Given the surrounding material, I think that counts as a respite. The closing "You in the Horizon"is also a bit of a comparative oasis, as Pyle grabs the microphone to accompany more snatches of French femme fatale movie dialogue. Given that there is singing, a groove, and a structured chord progression, it is tempting to say that it is an actual song, but it is the type of blurred, drugged, and creepily sexy song that might be emanating from a radio in an abandoned car in Twin Peaks at 3am.
With In Silhouette, I have finally come to grasp that Brian Pyle is one of the most singular and truly bizarre artists currently active in the experimental music milieu. The perverse dearth of actual melodic foundation on this album is quite radical, as is how much Pyle is able to do with so little. He seems to be a minimalist composer sharing the same body as a maximalist producer, as it certainly feels like he just took maybe one strong melody and a couple of cool chords and painstaking built them up into a sustained psychosexual plunge into a rabbit hole of hallucinatory horror. As such, I have some minor mixed feelings about this album, as I have certainly heard stronger music from Pyle before, but In Silhouette is such a striking vision coupled with such a tour de force of production genius that it almost renders the actual music at the core irrelevant. In fact, I think this might be an uncategorizable outsider masterpiece of some kind: I do not necessarily love it from start to finish (it is far too prickly), but there is nothing else quite like it and it certainly leaves one hell of a strong impression.
- In The Clear Blue Waters of Memory
- Gonna Get Right With God, Right After This Next Cigarette
- You in the Horizon