Isaac Helsen – Burning House (EL Muelle/Low Versions, 2021)

When I first moved to my current residence almost five years ago it was a strange period of displacement and adjustment. Leaving aside the new working arrangement, the physical act of moving oneself and possessions across the country to live, permanently, elsewhere is a challenging process. Everything is new, unfamiliar, unsettled.

Years later I’m still in the same space though many things have changed in and around me. Now again though I find myself at a curious juncture in life, having to anticipate uncertain future arrangements and establish some vague plan for permanence. I rent, so this isn’t a forever deal, but I have to ask myself is this where I want to remain? Is this previously unknown and distant place where the roots go down, or is there some other prospect more suitable for these foundations, and I burn this temporary structure away?

Isaac has a track here called “Deracination”: to feel or be uprooted from one’s sociocultural and/or geographical norms. In many ways it gets to the heart of Burning House, and to some of the feelings I hold on my circumstance. It’s an eerie piece zipping with glitched electronica and moody noir ambiences. A car engine rips distantly, violently through its centre, speeding away into field recordings of haunted weather and rumbling rain: sheltered from the urban storm but battered nonetheless. At its core it feels out of place, uncertain, and darkly longing of familiar lightness. Or at least, the twinkle of something recognisable.

Moments of serious reflection, such as “Mornings of Snowfall and Dreams”, feel surreal and tense, see-sawing tones slicing pseudo-string damage to the floaty atmospherics. It’s a period of delicate beauty and doubt, some pinned instant that seems to create an anchor against the whole edifice of possible change, needle in a butterfly’s wing.

It’s a brief reprieve (of sorts) against the intractable melancholia that grips much of the album. Double act seminal opener and sophomore “False Acronym” croon in tortured synthesisers: the former a despondent hollow of reverberant space and smoky drones; the latter a glistening fabric of shattered digital glass and grinding bass sustains. The latter in particular is crushing in its defeatism, laden such as it is with heavy, slow moving oppression.

By the time “Proscenium” with Siavash Amini arrives things are forced to come to a head, even allow for others to break through our overdramatic theatricality and enter the minefield that is the discussion of our life. It moves in seemingly endless crescendo, trembling always with barely restrained energies of fears and fortunes, filled with crashing and rumbling entities that move in the void. By the time it’s over and catharsis dissipated, it’s difficult to know whether any sense of resolution has been reached, or if it’s simply blasted into a state of unbecoming. It ebbs away on light beds of idling synths, shrinking away ceaselessly.

Perhaps the answer is that there is no answer. When standing at the cusp of change, every opportunity seems like a possibility, each leading to a different conclusion and each closing the door on the others. Whichever course is chosen the same cycle will no doubt ensue, the same uncertainty and strangeness will follow, and the same now will get lost.

Thus the process of house burning and resetting begins anew.