On his ambitious debut for the newly reformed Mille Plateaux label (yay to that!), Israeli audiovisual artist Ran Slavin (who has worked with Random Inc's Sebastian Meissner) has created both a visual and audio world that seems intent on blurring the line between real life and a dream state. Packaged in a deluxe dual region DVD/CD format, Insomniac City creates a gauzy world of slight unease where you never quite know what's lurking around the next corner.
Musically, his influences are familiar, and if you've heard anything on the Mille Plateaux label (where he has released tracks as part of the Clicks and Cuts series), this work won't come as any big surprise, but like his video work, it pulls you in with its subtlety. Most of the pieces contain minimal guitar work of some sort, but it's what Slavin does with all the layers around that instrument that really make the difference. "Free Fall" opens with oddly-tuned notes and field recordings of a light rain before quivering into a downcast piece of repeated guitar phrases and ringing filtered tones that eventually overtake the main melody.
"Dusk And Dust" is another standout, as an ascending guitar melody builds into a heavily reverbed wash that's eventually swallowed up and turns into some ringing hand percussion before coming back for a reprise. Like the rest of the tracks on the disc, it moves with an almost hallucinatory edge, with parts of the track turned over completely by a heavy dose of overtones or some other gradual pulse of sound. On both "Midnight Cargo" and "Planes And Violins," Slavin drops some string samples into a heavily-crackled mix, resulting in something that sounds vaguely like Tim Hecker's work from the Haunt Me, Haunt Me, Do It Again era crossed with a bit of Gas.
Oh, and he even pushes into a bit of power guitar ambience on the fittingly-titled "Guitar Epic," and his dense washes of sound and barely contained squalls of feedback should give any fan of Fennesz a bit of an ear tickle. Although a couple of his longer pieces outstay their welcome a bit, this is a disc for soaking in, and at ten tracks and over seventy-seven minutes it's good for that.
As mentioned above, the DVD portion of Insomniac City is a subtle, strange trip. Slavin filmed the piece in Tel Aviv and with some sparse narration and weird post-production effects, he turns the city into a eerie, alive mechanical being. Buildings (and pieces of them) move up and out of the ground (and sea) and tilt precipitously as the film follows a non-linear arc of the narrator trying to figure out if he's dreaming or not and whether he has been shot or not. It's a bit slow-moving, but strangely absorbing, and at only forty minutes, is well worth checking out and a nice companion to the excellent album.