Like leaping across far flung stones in a deep, dark river rather than finding a set and steady path.
Syl Kougai’s ΙΧΘΥΣ sounds like what looking at the title is like if you cannot read Greek: strangely familiar, similar to something you’ve experienced before but ultimately alien and a bit inscrutable. (Incidentally, ΙΧΘΥΣ (Ichthus) is an backronym/acrostic for “Ίησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ,” (Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr), which translates into English as “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.” Iota (i) is the first letter of Iēsous (Ἰησοῦς), Greek for “Jesus”).
Kougai’s release on Component Recordings was Orage Majorelle, a three song EP with the final one being eleven minutes long. By comparison here on ΙΧΘΥΣ, song lengths vary while content hews to a fairly predictable Schematic sound. It’s no wonder they signed him for this as his sound fits in quite nicely with the very Booth & Brown, very Autechre, very quasi-Warp sound of many Schematic artists. This is not intended as a dis but an observation that Kougai’s work has found a good home for further expression.
“Corvus” opens the album with sparse instrumentation and a steady beat over which brassy leads and Asian plucking sounds collide and scatter each other into near silence before coming together into a cohesive theme. This reviewer found some issue with this overall theme as it creates an album of fits and starts. For instance, Autechre manages empty space and minimal arrangements like the masters they are. Sometimes Kougai’s music can be too skeletal, almost too minimal with too much empty space at times to maintain the groove or beat while making each song experience fractious sounding. Themes and rhythms occasionally can get lost in the darkness and reverb without something linking it together. At its worst this is more disjointed than spacious, like leaping across far flung stones in a deep, dark river rather than finding a set and steady path.
“Ether” is a throwback to good weird electro like Incunabula-era Autechre or some recent Duran Duran Duran output. Funky and glitchy with a beat that skips an stutters but pushes the track along at a fast pace. Mutant harpsichord pieces clash against detuned orchestral elements like a space battle between ancient war minds. Midway the beat switches slightly as other themes and elements come into play before the song returns to a slightly modified, altered version of the beginning. “Alpha & Omega” shows off Kougai’s funky side and very nicely, too (if you ever want to see him work live an not have to visit his native France check out his “Twinkling” studio videos where he does everything live on a set of Elektron Audio devices). This tracks beats are slight off-kilter which accentuates the scattered elements of leads and harmonies quite well. It’s got a nice long, spacey fade out which doesn’t overstay its welcome but leaves you very satisfied. “Pisces” has a nice, dark, doomy vibe with its very screwy yet steady drums. One of the few tracks to have a discernible melody in the arpeggio, it’s a fuller song than the others without being cluttered or overdone. A steady drone runs through it over a simple beat. This could fit in well with any cyberpunk-esque soundtrack as well as on its own. “Ethyle” lifts us up from the darkness with a fast and furious electro workout full of squelching bass, zip zap sounds and the feeling your coffee and Ritalin have collided in a not entirely unpleasant way. Yet.
Ultimately, ΙΧΘΥΣ makes a musician want to make music which is the best praise I can give anything. There’s a lot to explore in the album over multiple listens which should preferably occur late at night while driving or spacing out on the internet.
ΙΧΘΥΣ is available on Schematic Music Co.