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Mike Majkowski, "Coast"

CoastThis is apparently the twelfth solo album from Berlin-based double bassist Mike Majknowski, but—far more significantly—it is also the follow up to 2021's killer Four Pieces and is very much in the same vein. That vein lies somewhere between loscil-style dubwise soundscapes and the austere sophistication of classic Tortoise or early Oren Ambarchi, which is certainly a fine place to set up shop, but that is merely the backdrop for some truly fascinating forays into sustained, simmering tension and exquisitely slow-burning heaviness. Unsurprisingly, I am like a moth to a flame when it comes to longform smoldering minimalism and I can think of few artists who can match Majknowski's execution, as he consistently weaves magic from little more than a few moving parts and a healthy appreciation for coiled, seething intensity.

Fragments Editions

The album consists of two side-long pieces ("Spiral" and "Later") that feel like divergent variations on a similar theme. "Spiral" opens with little more than a simple bass pattern, the pulse of a lonely high hat, and semi-rhythmic washes of bleary feedback or ravaged synth. There is also something resembling a minor key vibraphone melody languorously weaving through the mix, but it feels more like impressionistic coloring rather than a focal point. Gradually, a pulsing synth motif fades in that feels out-of-sync with the rest of the rhythm, giving the piece an organically shapeshifting feel that propels it into increasingly frayed and subtly unpredictable terrain: reliable rhythms start to falter, textures become more distorted, and the relationship between the various parts is increasingly in flux. It calls to mind a spider patiently spinning an incredibly intricate web while also resembling a state of suspended animation that is increasingly gnawed by an unsettling outside darkness.

While mostly built from similar materials, "Later" takes a very different path than its predecessor, opening with an industrial "locked groove" rhythm that is coupled with an insistently looping bass pulse. Gradually, however, additional notes creep into the bass pattern to transform the rhythm into something a bit more fluid, though the mechanized foundation boldly reasserts later in the piece. If "Later" was only an experiment in subtly shifting industrial rhythms, it would still be an impressive and absorbing piece, but a sickly swooping sound joins the churning and hiss-ravaged factory floor rhythm in the final minutes to elevate the piece into something more intense and haunting. Aside from the warmth of the bass line, it almost feels like a "lost classic" industrial tape from the '80s, except that tape murk has been replaced by crystalline clarity and precision-engineered dynamics. That clarity suits Majknowski's tightly choreographed artistry beautifully, as he expertly wields space to create a vacuum in which every subtle change or manipulation is felt deeply enough to transform and shape the whole. While I admittedly have a strong predisposition towards any virtuosic instrumentalist who spends a lifetime mastering their instrument so thoroughly that they eventually come out the other side to make hyper-minimalist music (like the two- or three-note bass lines on this album, for example), Coast feels like an objectively brilliant album to me (or at least an absolute master class in the manipulation of dynamics and tension).

Listen here.