“Zach Rowden and Henry Birdsey’s generous latest offering is a tape-mangled, xenharmonic trip into the dissociated outerzone. Properly next level spirit-calling drone musick that references Phill Niblock, C.C Hennix and La Monte Young, as well as cosmic psych explorers like Hototogisu, The Skaters and Double Leopards.
Tongue Depressor’s ‘Burnish’ was quietly one of 2022’s most outstanding releases – a light-headed ritual that summed up so much of the year’s nascent trends. Xenharmonic tunings, tape-dubbed organ drones, cautious non-repeating mathematical bell patterns, all of it rolled into a blur of sonorous future-ancient experimentation. ‘Bones For Time’ is a different proposition; picking up where its predecessor left off in some respects, but pulling everything out into syrupy long-form, shifting the focus from elemental intrigue to dizzying tape textures and consciousness-expanding harmonies.
The album is split into four 20-minute sides, each one investigating a separate instrumental fixation or process; the connecting thread is Rowden and Birdsey’s discrete philosophical outlook, which they impress on each single-take expression, whether they’re losing bowed strings in saturated fuzz, or pulling metallic clangs through fluttering tape heads. Importantly, none of it is overdone, heir hands-on compositional/improvisational process sparks a spellbinding level of restraint, flexibility and oversight.
They’re able to materialize quickly from almost avant-classical grandeur in the introductory segment of ‘You From The Local Family?’ into shivering desert blues and burned-out wailing noise, covering musical ground that’s close but rarely interlocking. They do it by finding unexpected concord in their shared passions; it’s the ghostly wail of “American primitivism” that sounds omnipresent here, and while neither Rowden nor Birdsey attempt to mimic John Fahey’s resonant fingerpicking, the ghosts of the past are like faint traces that haunt the backdrop of each piece. On ‘The Reason You Don’t Sleep Is The Words’, string plucks form irregular clouds of rhythm and un-tempered harmony that fluctuate between archaic US folk styles and sounds more easily located in the Middle East or South Asia. The first half of the track is where Rowden and Birdsey give themselves the opportunity for ornamental flourishes, which are slowed to a crawl and decorated with spirit whooshes before it draws to a deliberate close.
Our pick of the bunch is ‘Hymns of Mud’ – and not just cos we’re obsessed with the title. It’s the most tape-mangled offering of the four, evolving from woozy, blunted drones into light-headed bell experimentation, before morphing into electronic plainsong in the final act. Sure, the church music thing is souring quicker than unpasteurized milk, but when it’s done right nothing touches it. And fuck, do Tongue Depressor get it right: by turning church bells into sloshy Spencer Clark-esque disturbances and mimicking church liturgies with analog oscillators, they take the outline of an idea and ink it with fresh blood. By the time we reach closing track ‘Narrowing Of The Days’ we’re primed to transcend, and the duo gesture towards drone pioneers C.C Hennix and Phill Niblock with a whistling long-form examination of tonality and timbre that’s psychedelic, noisy and startlingly well-conceived. Is it DIY basement folk? Experimental classical? 20th century minimalism? Neo-drone? We’re not completely sure, and that’s precisely why we’re hooked. Essential gear.”