Fossil Aerosol Mining Project, "Zombi Traditions (37 Years)"
This enigmatic Illinois collective has never been particularly keen on revealing much about themselves, but they do have something of an origin story in which the project was birthed when they fatefully discovered a section of a film trailer in an abandoned drive-in theater back in 1983. While I do not believe they ever specified which film they found, all signs point to a George Romero or Lucio Fulci film, as "sounds from films about fake corpses constitute some of the earliest material used by Fossil Aerosol Mining Project." In fact, the project nearly always sounds like a hallucinatory collage of badly distressed VHS tapes of Dawn of the Dead, but the project has also released several explicitly zombie-indebted releases over the course of their long and macabre career, some of which were eventually compiled on 2014's digital-only Zombi Traditions. As befits the subject material, those already remixed, remastered, and revised pieces have been cannibalized once more for this definitive edition. As the previous incarnations of these songs have been purged from existence, I cannot say how well these latest versions stack up against the earlier ones, but I can say that this is easily one of the best Fossil Aerosol Mining Project albums that I have heard. To my ears, this album is the embodiment of everything I love about this project, as it perfectly captures the imagined ambiance of a late '70s/early '80s mall where the only remaining signs of life are strains of kitschy muzak and cheery announcements of incredible bargains eerily reverberating around the ransacked, rubble-strewn, and desolate halls until the electricity eventually fails.
Given this project‚Äôs mystery-shrouded nature, I cannot say for certain what their working methods were back in 1983 or if they have evolved at all over the ensuing four decades, but it definitely seems like the collective has an extremely purist approach to how they use their material. It seems fair to say that one of the project‚Äôs self-imposed constraints is that all of the sounds they use must be scavenged, so the difference between a middling album and great one lies in how well the fundamentally non-musical material lends itself to musicality (and how ingenious the collective can be when the material does not). In practical terms, that means that the essence of Zombi Tradition's aesthetic is murky ambiance conjured from hiss, garbled samples, and industrial hum, but that foundation is often enhanced with enigmatic vocal fragments, snatches of ads, and bits of repurposed muzak.
When they hit the mark, the results can be wonderfully creepy, immersive, and hallucinatory in a very unique and distinctive way. In the case of this album, those moments mostly tend to be the longest pieces. For example, the seething slow burn of "Damaged Years Ago" steadily swells to a haunted crescendo of inhuman-sounding backwards voices and a promise of "all the most popular brands." Elsewhere, "Italian Resurrection" evokes the swaying industrial ambiance of a massive engine slowly churning in an enigmatic miasma of footsteps, tape hiss, and eerie vocal fragments ("help me") that bubble up from the depths. Later, "The Shopping Mall Has Long Since Flooded" sounds like a broken radio playing flickering, unintelligible, and creepily reverberant emergency dispatches to a long-abandoned and partially submerged food court. A couple of the shorter pieces are excellent too though. I especially love the hiss-ravaged muzak phantasmagoria of "1983," which has the creepy, sad, and playful feel of some recent Aaron Dilloway albums. That said, the whole album casts a wonderfully unbroken spell and the execution is unusually strong for FAMP (presumably because the material has been reworked so many times). Given the grisly and oft-schlocky source material being repurposed, I was pleasantly surprised by the bleak beauty and subtly morbid humor of these pieces, as they never err into oppressive darkness or easy kitsch (even when a cheery voice is encouraging me to "visit often"). To my ears, this is one of the true jewels of the Fossil Aerosol Mining Project discography (if not the project‚Äôs culminating achievement).
Samples can be found here.