Merrin Karras :: Apex (A Strangely Isolated Place)

Apex (also) spans a myriad of other styles and genres, often referencing current peers similarly inspired by John Carpenter or the Radiophonic Workshop.

Merrin Karras :: Apex (A Strangely Isolated Place)

Brendan Gregoriy has been recording and releasing house and techno under the alias Chymera for over fifteen years, taking in labels like Delsin, NRK Sound Division and Connaisseur to name just a few. Much of this output has taken the form of EP’s or split releases, with just two albums to the moniker’s name.

Having burnt out recording a “particularly grueling album” under time pressure, Gregoriy had started to listen to music from the likes of Biosphere, Steve Moore and Oneohtrix Point Never. Drawing inspiration from these more atmospheric artists, he began creating new tracks with no external pressures, no timescale, or even any intention of making a new album. The end result of this experimentation conducted over the course of two winters in Berlin was this “accidental” album released under the new alias Merrin Karras on the illustrious As Strangely Isolated Place imprint.

There’s something oddly reminiscent of Ricardo Donoso’s Symmetry trilogy of albums in Apex, not least because of the skeletal construction that implies an original composition containing numerous additional layers that have been subsequently stripped out. As it turns out, this is because of the ground rules Gergoriy set himself when recording this new material: “no drums or percussive elements, and no samples.” It’s a tall order to create tracks that have a sense of movement without the former, and immersive atmosphere without the latter, but Apex pulls it off with aplomb.

This is particularly notable on the trance-like “Elevate,” which sounds as though the propulsive beat it might once have possessed has been excised, its absence gifting the track a weightless, drifting but never static quality that pervades most of the album. It’s even taken into pop-ambient territory by the repeated use of a luxurious chord stab that recalls imperial-era Pet Shop Boys at their height.

Allusions to science-fiction keep getting applied to Apex, and “Severance” is certainly a Carpenter-esque, retro sci-fi workout, its low frequency oscillations winding buzzing pads into tight coils and then releasing them, the overall atmosphere that of a dimly lit and confused power room.

The sci-fi element is most evident in “The Void,” one Apex‘s real highlights and the track that’s definitely made the biggest stir out in the world at least in part thanks to an accompanying video featuring appropriately hypnotic footage from the vintage sci-fi movie “Battle Beyond The Sun”. It’s a tension-building tour-de-force of synth horn fanfare, propulsive bass loops, slow-motion, lemniscate arpeggios and smeary aging video treatments that culminates in the album’s true apex.

But honestly there’s far more to Apex than just sci-fi moods and brooding synth minimalism, as evinced on “Elevate” or the vibrant, coral-colors of the title track. Apex also spans a myriad of other styles and genres, often referencing current peers similarly inspired by John Carpenter or the Radiophonic Workshop. “The Veldt” – another highlight – could easily be mistaken for some of Pye Corner Audio’s most accessible and successful melodic work, the dusty, monochromatic organ tones underpinning warbling, lo-fi pads and kosmiche, reverberating synth keys and scales.

And the final track, “Isolation” opens like a Boards of Canada piece mixed together with evocative, futuristic ambient-techno textures and more uneasy organ tones, all of which are subsumed in buzzing tone-dialing confusion that closes Apex on a distinctly mysterious, uncertain note.

You’d hope all this synth wizardry would sound at its absolute best when listened to on vinyl, and you’d be absolutely right. That minimal sound palette combined with maximum sound design positively submerges the room in atmosphere when the spinning wax is sent drifting through the speakers.

Such minimalism can be its own worst enemy if it somehow misses the mark (Donoso’s second album in the Symmetry series was a chilly bore), but luckily this is rarely ever the case on Apex. Only “Liberant” feels just that bit too skeletal and spiky, lacking the sense of progression and the immersive atmosphere most of the other pieces have.

This is another fine entry into A Strangely Isolated Place’s ambient canon, and is presented in the label’s usual deluxe style, the two slabs of Balearic sea green vinyl housed in a lush, matte-laminated gatefold sleeve featuring a heavily crystallized photograph creating a simple design from a complex image to reflect the content perfectly.

Apex is available on A Strangely Isolated Place.

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