Thick and feverish, poky and fraught, High Atlas To The Sahara Desert is a field recording fed synth walkabout that grabs so much of what I love from both worlds. As a bent-up, re-constituted aural travelogue, I couldn’t say whether it captures anything of the spirit of East Africa, as the press release (typically confident from Discrepant) outlines, but this blend of palettes, however, gets me right in the dystopian, wasteland-y feels.
High Atlas, across nine tracks, doesn’t shock or side-swipe you to create its tension. There isn’t that avant-slap-across-the-chops that some more careless cads can resort to. Like cheap jump scares. This has more in common with the ambient and the psychedelic. There are, indeed, a lot of layers going on, but there’s just enough to make it… whelming rather than overwhelming. In a more natural and normal description, it doesn’t swamp itself and it’s textured into a mire, but you’re kind of worried you might occasionally need to take in deeper breaths.
The elemental balance is satisfying, and not just the choice, but also the substitutions. What counts as the driving percussive force can shift from percussion to found sound parts. And there are these interstitial moments where the elements are processed to resemble neither. Almost every inglenook and cranny is filled with something, and the juxtaposition of the field recording to the processing treatments cracks open each part to reveal these great soundscapes.
The nadir of the record is “Homage To The Cause (One Night In Marrakesh)”, which is like a drum workshop that everyone else left except you and one other guy and he has the only drum but won’t let you leave without finishing a killer sudoku, made more difficult by the heat in the marquee generating sweat that drips in pregnant bulbs from your fusty brow onto the perplexing grid puzzle gripped in your nail-less fingers. There’s a great tension to it. Thank heck for the next track, “Uplands”, being a swelling, cosmic nap that helps you back down to something more serene and contemplative, rather than combative. But this is the sort of ride I can really get behind.
My personal favourite track is “Night Pass” which took me to a cyberpunk-y, futurist film-noir place. There’s a lot to drag from this record and it gives you a ton of options. There are threads to pull, angles to approach, bells and whistles, and as long as you have a bit of a dark-adventure sense of humour, you’ll probably fall out the back of it and want to dig out the previous volume of Alexander’s as I did.