Collecting together material recorded by Ricky Graham in 2010, Mecca is plays like a single with an extended stream of B-sides. Accompanying the title track are a few guitar-centric ambient work-outs (looped, nestled in bitcrusher and flecked with synthesizer strokes), a remix and two tracks featuring guest vocalists. It’s an odd mix, and doesn’t exactly run together coherently – for a listener coming into signalsundertest afresh, Mecca is a rather jumbled opening statement, and it’s not an easy task to collate the record’s fragments into a solitary piece of critique.
The first and last tracks make the most prominent impact. “Mecca” sets a beat into a muddy hiss and thump beneath glitching guitar and electronics, scattered into splinters that jitter on the surface. As the drums slip back behind distorted powerchord and droning feedback whistles, the music finds an unusual juxtaposition between the texturally murky and the rhythmically precise, threatening to boil over into pure noise as the layers pile up. In stark contrast, closer “Glisten” floats like one of Helios’ angelic dreamscapes, with female vocal caught in clean harmonies and drenched in a breathy reverb. A bit too saccharine at points for sure – particularly when the vocals are granted too much of a lead role – but pleasant enough to be passable.
As for the stuff in the middle: the Jking remix cleans “Mecca” right up and reduces its chaotic rhythm to hollow dubstep plod, while “Pushpull” (featuring the rap contributions of David Whitaker) feels too washy in its melodic melancholy and gently bubbling distortion. The three ambient pieces are nicely produced but seem all too hurried, as though afraid to let notes resonate and subside toward silence; as a result, they hang in an awkward limbo between over-active interlude and meandering instrumental.
So what to make of Mecca? It’s a strange one. There’s not enough stylistic common ground across these pieces to draw them into a coherent listening experience, yet it feels inadequate as a portfolio. Personally, I’d be intrigued to hear more material along the lines of the title track. Mecca dips far too briefly into that sort of monotonous electro-ritual state (a rather enticing one at that) and isn’t permitted a chance to return. There’s promise here for sure.