The Present’s The Way We Are plays like Alice walking through the Looking Glass, but
instead of waltzing through Wonderland she ends up suspended in an inscrutable Finnegans
Wake landscape. This is challenging electronica for mind expansion, not
dancing. Rave music for the introspective Jean Paul Sartre/Ingmar Bergman crowd
and definitely not for the faint of heart.
The Present is Rusty Santos, Mina, and Jesse Lee. Those names are
essentially the only information given on The Way We Are disc. That
intentional crypticness could also be seen as minimalism, and cryptic
minimalism could be a way to describe their music. But to leave out the music’s
occasional crushing sonic aggression and bluntness would be a disservice.
There’s a flipside of maximalism here; a kind of piling on of sound creating a
disorienting blur and sensory overload. If played too loud, The Way We Are could make your neighbors think there’s highway construction going on inside
your apartment. And this recording would literally be unsafe to have playing in
your car while driving (not that that was the intent).
There’s essentially two things going on here: improvised
electro-acoustic sound collage, and tonal, new agey mellowness. Generally the
recording is more successful when it’s creating ‘non-music’ soundscapes. There
are many moments of digital disintegration where pure electronics collapse or
morph into spacey, relaxing harmonic passages. The former are consistently the
more interesting moments.
The centerpiece of the recording is the epic, closing 32 minute long
title track. All of the recording’s elements are here and then some: Ambient
reservoirs, digital unrest, old school sci-fi noises that would fit well in 70s
B-grade films, Steve Reich phasing intimations, drones, sonic galaxies on
collision courses. The noise builds to a horrifying denouement like the lost
score for the ending scene of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby where Mia
Farrow approaches the crib. It plays as some sort of demonic apotheosis with a
ritualistic chant of “the way we are” buried beneath the confusion for
the final 4 minutes. Interestingly, the final section is one of the few that
features more traditional instruments like keyboards and drum kit upfront.
The Present have made an uncompromisingly avant-garde, confrontational
recording. More akin to some kind of “L’enfant terrible” sound art installation
for the Guggenheim than any pop rock band recording, The Way We Are is a
giant middle finger to convention. While merely saying “fuck you” doesn’t
necessarily make one creative, there is some very interesting ideas at work
here. There is much potential if The Present press on together into the future.
Standout Tracks: “Medman,” “The Way We Are” JOHN DWORKIN