Striations – Vietnamization DCD Old Captain/Eibon 2019
Striations is a name I am familiar with, being the industrial/noise/power electronics project of American Mike Finklea, but I must admit that I did not properly check them out until now, due to the quite daunting discography (close to 30 releases since 2011). Yet when I spotted the promo blurb stating this was the project’s ‘magnum opus’, I figured it was high time to investigate further. This version of Vietnamization is a CD reissue of the original tape on New Forces from 2018, but expanded with additional content (originally issued to close associates of the project). From the title alone the thematic preoccupations of this album are clear, focusing on the policy of the Richard Nixon administration to end US involvement in the Vietnam War, which functionally involved bolstering the role of South Vietnamese forces and simultaneously reducing American troops.
Two sprawling tracks (or ‘phases’) constitutes the original material (53 minutes), which feature an amorphous and continually shifting sound that corresponds with the listed sub-titles such as 1971 Army Recruitment Radio Advertisement, Secret War, and Automaton Squad. (18 sub-titled tracks span Phases 1 & 2). In an overarching sense spoken samples give way to violent noise and unhinged vocals, but just as quickly shift off into pensive throbbing synths and deep pounding rhythms, while fierce gunfire and jungle noise place the listener within the middle of the firefight. With heavy use of thematic samples this gives a real impression of listening to a soundtracked documentary – albeit with industrial, noise, and power electronics – with an ever shifting but interlinking sound palette interspersed with sections of dialogue. Likewise, segments of violent noise blend with restrained stalking soundscapes and function to highlight the variety and complexity of compositional approach. Yet despite the wealth of thematic samples employed, the meaning and message remains murky. It is unclear whether this is seeking to be a mere documentation of key events (including the arrogance and political failings of the American government during the conflict), a comment on the impact of war on both civilians and individual soldiers, or an analysis of the dark aspects of human nature during wartime action.
Phase 3: Operation Boundary Rider, Phase 4: Operation Shed Light and Phase 5: Operation Freedom Deal form the additional content not included on the original tape, and effectively constitute lengthy collages of TV reporting, media interviews, radio soundbites, and a mostly minimalist backing of soundscape-oriented battlefield ambience (save for one short section of composed rhythmic synths). Throughout this material the spoken voices take center stage and function to flesh out the conceptual backing of the core material on Phase 1 and Phase 2. While this material is certainly interesting, it perhaps does not warrant repeated listens when compared to the main tracks.
The promo blurb used the descriptive word ‘obsession’ to describe the overall methodology, which is spot on in my view, particularly given the meticulous approach to the presentation of its theme and sonic content. Vietnamization is an engaging and compelling release and reminds me of the totality of thematic obsession and sonic complexity of releases such as the 2007 double album Fentanyl Martyrs by Survival Unit, even if the end result is completely different. A six-panel double digi-pack with additional text and visuals rounds out an excellent release. But with a mere 300 copies I would not imagine this will remain available for too long.