Subheim – Foray (Denovali, 2015)


If there’s one thing you can count on Kostas K’s music as Subheim as being, it’s dark, atmospheric and moody right to the last. At home in the broad confines of Downtempo, Trip Hop and Ambient Techno, the Subheim project has been a brooding and mysterious place in which loneliness and often existential dread find themselves at the heart of things. After a five year hiatus, Foray is no different, lounging in city lights after dark, restless energy and an over thinking mind driving us to the streets to clear our head through its engrossing collection of heady electronic beats as well as fragile strings and piano sequences.

Opener “Bitter” is the surprising start to our dark excursion, kicking things off with aggressive stringed movements, unsettled and unsettling in their angry and disconnected pulses of fragmentary catharsis like kicking litter down the pavement; it’s a fuming and entangled way to start but it suits the tone of the record perfectly. It’s shortlived, somewhat thankfully, transmuting into the sweeping gazes of drone-led “Neon”, surveying the familiar concrete landscape through the crackly, static sight of night vision as we peer through the dim light; it’s graceful though, finding some sense of personal freedom in what cannot be seen. Later, “Night Walk” re-engages some of the same sentiments in its Ambient-Drone cooldown, its stringed airs plaintive and earnest, just radiating unstable energy and emotion out into the accepting night through our feet.

Acoustic minimalism occurs elsewhere in “Silence” and particularly in the haunting piano isolationism of “Alone”, its intimate keystrokes trickling out in melancholic reverie appreciative of this opportunity for space and reflection, whilst the former loses itself in affecting strings and distal, almost funereal trumpets that seem to meander in decrepitude. “All of us will die” the echoic female voice tells us at the end, this creepily informative yet unnaturally warped collection of haunting words adding that final existential threat.

Those spoken moments litter the album like black gems, little terrifying diamonds of often unrecognisable sound that talk of death and similarly morbid or dark things; “Red Ridge” is the most active in that regard, collapsing into thick Dub Techno beats and cruising, syrupy synths as it heightens the mysterious nature of its existence with disquieting words just barely on the cusp of intelligibility. The energetic penultimate piece “Arktos” is not too far removed either as it races to close the record in this heated noir blaze of whirling synth aggression, coupled with slow-motion piano freezings and warped, hushed spoken words that again croon in the reverent night to be lost be morning: “Nothing is ever over” it says clearly in its final moment, this depressing capstone of thought speaking out.

The bigger and bolder pieces aren’t all the same though; titular track “Foray” is a sweeping expression of progressive confidence as the rhythmic beats lay ground like footsteps on concrete, each motion gaining strength and resolve over its fears in this heady Future Garage piece, filled with swagger and densely molten electronica. Meanwhile “Forsaken” starts on bleary and lost ethereal motions before exploding into brazen basslines and empowered guitar riffs, shuffling along in grooving, flanging synths.

But “Berlin” is the sumptuous closer and the antithesis of the disjointed, incoherent “Bitter”, shutting the door as it returns to more familial surrounds as keys jingle, boots scrape, floorboards creak and jackets rustle; meanwhile we’ve left our woes at the door, and all that’s left here is tired, drained drone ambience that falls into rest on the coattails of a screeching ambulance rushing into the distance to help some other poor lost soul.

It isn’t God who makes the world like this.

We are.

The final two sentences bring some closure and sum up the record quite nicely; sometimes we have to go out and see the world for what is is and accept our responsibility in making it thus. But we need to know how not to be burdened by these thoughts, know what it takes to loosen ourselves from internal strife and restlessness; Foray is the embodiment of cool, late-night cathartic electronica and I can’t wait to see his next melancholic excursion.