1: 04 October 2018
I saviour my first experience to a new Moon Relay record. Because this music is rife with misdirection, the initial attempt to comprehend the record is messy – characterised by dead-ends and jolts of surprise, constantly pulling the plug on the my attempted projections into the future. I’m ecstatic to find that IMI, the group’s latest album, is no different. Track introductions offer me blueprints for how the music might assemble itself, and it’s only after a minute that I realise I’ve been holding the ruddy thing upside-down; the rhythm is not the rhythm, and the vague outline of an 1980s disco starts to mutate, instrument-by-instrument, into a cramped and overblown post-punk rehearsal, with tom drums overloading the microphone and dissonant chords jangling out of an amplifier situated far too close. IMI is another demonstration of Moon Relay’s crooked mode of assembly – one that craves not the seamless meshing of parts, but the clangs of collision and groans of friction, textures tugging in different directions, the melding of incompatible depictions of space. As I write this, “(^)||” has just swerved out of its nauseous industrial churn and landed in a spiral of descendent pianos and eroded synth chords. My body takes a moment to adjust. Each transition is like a hidden dip; my stomach leaves me for a moment, then settles back into place as I begin to comprehend my new surroundings.
And I’m stumbling through “—#/#^” as I write to you now. Percussion trades places like the deft output of a magician’s cup-and-ball trick: real drums are swapped out for poor electronic counterfeits, then put back, then fleetingly crushed through a distortion pedal, all without spilling a drop of rhythmic momentum. And that’s the odd thing. These tracks never feel any less than coherent as they trundle forward on square wheels and mismatched parts; there is a fluency here suggesting that, rather than acting upon intentional self-sabotage, the band look to demonstrate the internal resilience of what we might term “musical continuity”. There’s something thoroughly existential about it: every single instrument might be vulnerable to transformation, degradation or obliteration, yet all of them orbit a mutual perception of the passing of time. A consistent tempo runs through all of these pieces like a titanium railing, and I cling to it until my knuckles turn white.
I’m finding that each listen comes accompanied by a new angle through which to appreciate it. This time my thoughts are all wrapped up in that second track, “(^)||”. Here’s a chronological list of what excites me so. The drums to my right during the intro, which sounds like the open-door leakage from the rehearsal of an entirely different band. The jabber of tape being accelerated and scrambled. The bass riff that loops angrily like an oily chain falling off a bike. The scratchy guitar – seemingly captured on a busted dictaphone – that gnashes over the top. The hi-hat that juts out at the 2:50 mark; seemingly an alloy of bronze and cardboard, flat and obnoxious in tone. The dissonant chord collision at 3:50, like the moment of horrible revelation in a 1950s American spy film. The spindles of guitar showering down from five minutes in, detuned and frail. The bass guitar reclaiming the foreground for that final minute, chewing up the centre of the stereo picture. I could run through the same process with every track, isolating the artefacts that bedeck the road of rhythm. Better still, these details only emerge when my attention is directed at them. Moon Relay conceal them within the whole: a music so coherent that, until closer inspection, betrays its assembly from the materials of studio alchemy and charming accident.
The drum machine is a constant presence throughout IMI. Untreated and plastic, it repeats a single refrain throughout each piece, stood like a rigid trellis of snare drums and handclaps, with all other instruments weaving around it and blossoming forth. In some senses, it is the most unlikely underpinning for Moon Relay’s creations. Given the multitude of FX and treatments that decorate every other instrument here, what place is there for a drum loop of such sterility, seemingly built from the default samples of any open source music production software? On further reflection, this provides a basecamp for the group’s alchemical excursions – a way to appreciate the extent to which they travel outward, through different chords and rhythms amplifiers and pedals and microphones and spaces, clasping at the perimeter of experimentation with one hand and reaching back to that origin of rhythmic coherence with the other. It’s through this drum machine that I can trace the full development of that opening track, from a bedroom techno loop to a ripped and jangling beast. Because the weirdness of Moon Relay doesn’t leap straight out of the box; it’s a symptom of warped growth, with each new instrument forcing the group into another strange turn, leaving a nauseous scrawl of zig-zags in their wake. It’s a reminder that each track here, for all its garish colours and contorted choreography, has its roots in a solitary unremarkable gesture.
The instruments are together, yet dislocated. These recent listens to IMI have highlighted an uncanny contradiction to the summing of the parts, and despite everything being fitted together with the satisfactory seamlessness of self-assembly furniture, I remain aware that each component is inherently separate. Each takes its own path, from instruments and out through wires, dribbling out of tape machines into ageing microphones, buzzing out of bad amplifiers and rinsing the walls of large rooms. Something about the production of IMI allows me to apply focus to each sound in turn, like a fine spotlight illuminating a solitary drum or guitar line, and then trace its journey back through equipment, arriving back at that inexplicable and perverse jolt of creative desire. I contemplate “___§”, and fixate on the drones wobbling as the tape machine tries to pull them taut, sounding like a damaged archival capture of an old choral lament, perhaps salvaged from an unmarked cassette found at the bottom of an attic crate; I turn to the guitar stabs, which seem to have been fed through four distortion pedals before they even hit the amplifier, pumped out through the grill in piping hot plosives, recorded during a sudden rush of aggressive energy where the rest of the track pulls from a stagnant, hallucinatory lethargy. Both instruments co-exist, yet they are the products of entirely different circumstances. When the lights of my concentration are dim – say, when the album plays in the background while I read – each track feels assuredly whole. Yet the scrutiny of dedicated listens reveals the truth. Just how assortments of carefully placed objects can cast shadows that resemble animals and people, the supposed indivisibility of IMI is but a trick of the light.