Review: Bjarni Gunnarsson – Paths

artwork“It’s about the journey, not the destination.” As I listen to the record, my mind drifts helplessly toward this cliché. I wince as I feel it happening. Yet perhaps thanks to the album title, my experience of Paths centres on this notion; the thrill of unforeseeable turns and ruptures in progress, embracing unexpected diversion as an essential and inevitable means of reaching an end objective. While the destination may reside at a fixed point in the future/distance, the path has the potential to be riddled with erratic chicanes and sudden obstacles. The album is pocketed with fierce shifts in state – explosions of change that sabotage the idle trundle of time, demolishing gentle blooms of sound to lay the atmosphere to waste all over again. Abstract sound design can be as much a process of destruction as assembly, and Paths manifests as a visceral embrace of this fact.

For an album released at the scorching peak of summer (in England, at least), this feels remarkably like a record built for winter. Many of Gunnarsson’s environments are ravaged by harsh blizzards and gale-force winds, blasting their way through passages of stillness like storms blowing windows open in a quiet room. Even the stretches of comparative calm are scenes of imbalance and imminent ruin; sine waves roll like marbles upon table-tops of low drone, while cogs whirr stiffly in the generation of hostile, intermittent jets of cyclically-powered feedback. “Pulsinato” sounds like a broken lightshow, with lighthouse beams painting the darkness with dim illuminations, and busted strobes shivering and waning into the sky. Noises burst into life after stretches of prolonged failure, while drones tilt in and out of microtonal alignment. “Verlat” scans between glutinous dead air, flailing sines and the purrs of alien transmission, with the hands of Gunnarsson flitting anxiously over the dials in restless, sonically nomadic lurches. Within each moment resides the instruments of its own oblivion, pressing against the loose screws of synth chassis and announcing themselves in throbs of electronic alarm. The path is never completely straight, and Gunnarsson uses every bend as an opportunity to smack me in the face, leaping out of the darkness just as I fall into lulls of faux-stillness, leaving me stinging and blinking in bewilderment as he heaves the music through episodes of guttural overhaul. A violently unpredictable record.