Experimental music has a tendency to be an ‘all-or-nothing’ proposition- not necessarily in the execution department, but as a final product. It’s either ridiculously engaging, or it’s simply ridiculous. A great deal of Aphex Twin’s catalog comes to mind- When Richard James is firing on all cylinders, he makes some of the most engrossing and memorable ‘tunes’ that there are to be heard. But when he misses (Drukqs, anyone?), he does so in such spectacular fashion that your ears will emulate the effects of tinnitus to punish you for your poor listening decisions.
Enter Abisso, the latest from Italian two-piece OvO. This one is a bit of an oddity in that it doesn’t neatly fit into either the ‘all’ or ‘nothing’ category, but rather hovers in the space between awesome and unlistenable at all times. At no point does it cross the line in either direction, but the line itself is made razor-thin by the strange arrangement of the crystal-clear drums and the hazy rattling of the string section. And even more of an anomaly here: Abisso does not require your full attention. This could function as background music just as well as it could make that blotter you just dropped kick in and get those walls-a-meltin’ in no time.
Abisso works best as a start-to-finish piece, though almost nothing is forcibly run together to insinuate that a fifty-three minute dedication is necessary. “Harmonia Microcosmica” is a fitting opener in that it provides an appropriate litmus test to see if Abisso is going to engross or irritate. Let it do what it does for about two minutes and a pretty clear stage is set for what to expect: repetitive, simple beats over a minimal guitar track that is generally flooded with electronic noises, reined in by the uneven and unsettling vocals of Stefania Pedretti. Pedretti’s performance moves from the sound of Swamp Thing drowning in an oil spill to Bjork after finding a nitrous tank behind the dentist’s office during “Tokoloshi”, and then promptly shifts back when “I Cannabali” kicks in. It’s an interesting dichotomy to hear what this duo considers beauty and abrasion, considering the way these two tracks melt together (and also that they both could easily end up on the soundtrack to an eventual remake of Caligula).
There’s not a ton of polarity shifting here, however. With the exception of the slightly-subdued “A Dream Within A Dream” (featuring the vocal contributions of Gnaw’s Alan Dubin) and the more traditional slow-build of “Fly Little Demon” (also featuring a guest performance, this time courtesy of Evangelista), Abisso is essentially two disconnected people peering in on a humankind with which they’ve lost touch. And considering the mechanical recording process that committed this to whatever format your mind selects to absorb it, it’s a pretty organic and fluid experience. It’s certainly not the most inventive album, but it’s more than interesting enough to warrant a spin or two.