Skin Area / Jarl – La Petite Mort LP Malignant Records 2014
‘La Petite Mort’ is a collaborative album between Skin Area (aka Martin Bladh and Magnus Lindh) and Jarl (aka Erik Jarl) – noting that Erik and Martin also form two thirds of the revered power electronics project IRM. Whereas Skin Area’s previous albums inhabited a wildly diverse experimental post-industrial sound (bordering on being almost disjointed at times), the involvement of Jarl (who is known for his own solo experimental dark ambient material), seems to have tempered the direction of ‘La Petite Mort’ into focused drone ambient territory. Also given that Martin utilises his distinctive voice within Skin Area (and coupled with the involvement of Erik Jarl), this album begs a passing comparison to IRM. Although this is acknowledged as a partially lazy descriptor, nevertheless the sound of ‘La Petite Mort’ could be considered as an ambient drone take on IRM’s far more forceful and visceral sound works.
‘Tantalus’ opens with LP with a spare soundscape of animated organic shimmering textures and quasi-drone like tones, as the monotone spoken vocals of Martin’s Bladh articulate a psychological perspective on masturbation representing a safe surrogate for self-annihilation. This theme obviously has some sort of conceptual link to the track’s title, noting Tantalus is a Greek mythological figure subjected to eternal punishment for sacrificing his son and serving his corpse at a banquet of the Gods. The composition also reveals some partially hidden disharmonic piano tones and string instruments within the soundscape, which shifts the mood into a tense passage of building and densely layered sounds and abstract vocalisations (coughs, croaks and garbled voices). ‘Charybdis’ arrives next and functions in slightly more animated guise with its clinical rhythmic pulse, whilst shrill disharmonic orchestral strings provide a degree of tenseness. The track is further complimented by Martin’s morose spoken vocals addressing abstract thematic content (“placenta nest of whiskers”?).
‘Scylla’ opens the second side with micro-tonal examinations of scrapped/ manipulated strings, as tense bowed instruments are gradually overlaid. Think of a more abstract styled Penderecki and you are part way there. The later half of the track then shifts mode with morose muted harmonic drones, rhythmic pulses and (strangely) field recordings of the barking of neighbourhood dogs (…interestingly the atmosphere here accommodates a hazy dreamlike aura which verges towards an ‘unknown fear’ type of nightmare). ‘Pelops’ is the last of four compositions and despite its abstract frame is the most ‘composed’ with muted strumming of some sort of stringed instrument, alongside more intensely shrill droning sounds and minimalist abstract bass guitar and garbled vocalisations, which give rise to a spoken passage of Martin’s even more downtrodden vocals which return to the thematic context of the first track (…a further conceptual link is provided by the fact that in Greek Mythology*, Pelops was the sacrificed son of Tantalus).
Despite its overall ambient drone like quality, this music is far from being minimalist and abstract, rather is heavily engaging and strikingly animated due to its detailed attention and layering of the individual sonic textures. On the packaging front there is the stark minimalist artwork courtesy of Martin Bladh, which is included on the cover and a series of thirteen single sided A4 printed inserts. ‘La Petite Mort’ represents the most honed material heard from Skin Area to date (possibly due to the involvement of Jarl), and consequently delivers experimental ambient drone works of the highest calibre, which whilst clearly born of the underground absolutely elevates itself into a non-derivative niche all its own. With a limitation of 220 copies, this seem far too few.
* – The conceptual influence of Greek mythology is also present on tracks ‘Charybdis’ and ‘Scylla’ – both being mythical sea monsters. Further context of the potential conceptual meaning is expressed by the Greek Mythological idiom “between Scylla and Charybdis” which effective means “having to choose between two evils”.