Sheffield-based instrumental outfit 65daysofstatic have never stood still. The quartet’s sound has been pushed and pulled in different directions since their formation in 2001, with their output largely grouped under the ‘post-rock’ umbrella. Labels such as that haven’t limited their scope, though; over the years, they’ve comfortably incorporated and reshaped influences from a myriad of places, with past efforts drawing on genres as diverse as IDM, techno, math rock, modern classical, industrial and shoegaze. They’ve refused to be pigeonholed, to the point where successive album releases have seemed like reactions to previous material, and this is especially apparent in the case of replicr, 2019.
Their new record steps away from the exploratory soundscapes created on their last outing (itself the soundtrack to the 2016 game No Man’s Sky) in favour of something darker and more introspective. Opener ‘pretext’, gradually builds from its beginnings as a haunting drone, pushed forward by barely-audible drums, before the album bursts into life with the anxious rush of ‘stillstellung’. Frantic and intense, it’s racing tempo, skittering rhythm and keening, soaring melody recalls the band’s second album One Time For All Time, but with a sound that’s stripped to its essentials; as a result, it sounds huge, inescapable and terrifying.
Listening to replicr, 2019 is best done in isolation. Flowing from start to finish as one 42-minute piece, the album unfolds as the soundtrack to a society that’s rife with uncertainty and fear; where we find hope in the most unlikely of places even though the mood is overall increasingly bleak. ‘bad age’ is as nerve-wracking as it gets, its eerie keyboard line and wandering musical phrases pinned down by a martial snare drum. The ambient pieces scattered throughout the album deserve close listening as they offer clear glimpses into the record’s fascinating sound design that, elsewhere, can sometimes get lost in the noise. Then again, that’s the entire point of an album such as this; in mood, tone and texture, it’s unrelenting, even when apparently at its most peaceful.
‘sister’ is a prime example of this. On the surface, it’s a formless mood piece that acts as a palate cleanser as the first half of the album draws to a close; dig deeper, though, and it becomes much more unsettling, transitioning from contemplation to consternation as the listener is overpowered by noise and chest-rattling, squelching bass. It finds its counterpart in album closer ‘trackerplatz’, whose skeletal foundations are coloured and complemented by intertwining guitar and piano lines as the song swells to a powerful peak before falling away into nothing. Whereas the band of old might have drawn that peak out into a cathartic finale, there is no such resolution here. Even when everything is a little more structured and concrete, such as on ‘five waves’, probably the closest the album gets to a ‘traditional’ 65daysofstatic track, they refuse to rely on familiar patterns, with echoes of past work filtered through the lens of how they view themselves in the current moment.
The album reaches its dramatic heights with the brooding ‘interference_1’, a synth-soaked delight that draws on the sound adopted for their re-score of the 1972 film Silent Running for something approaching cautious optimism. It chooses not to commit to despair or blind hope, instead considering its options and taking a look at the world as it is right now, for better or worse. Their 2013 album Wild Light opened with brief caution: ‘No-one knows what is happening; there is a lot of danger out there, OK?’ That sense of trepidation has deepened and grown in the years thereafter, and today’s version of the band reflects that. There’s no question that replicr, 2019 is a difficult listen, even when viewed in the wider context of their career. Their music has sought to challenge and disrupt since their inception, but this album is a different beast, with atmosphere and detail taking centre stage.
Their response to that ‘danger’ has been to revel in it and make an album that captures a snapshot of these distressing times. This is an album you have to commit yourself to, and it may not seem welcoming, but for every moment of dread here, there’s an equally powerful moment of catharsis on richly-detailed record that rips up its creators’ established playbook and has them looking to the future, with a desire to push onward no matter what it may bring. Will you join them?