sceptre fretpen: Plugh
Sparkwood Records

Issued on cassette by the Norwegian label Sparkwood Records, Plugh features twenty-four minutes of weird, experimental ambient material from sceptre fretpen. Your guess is as good as mine whether the Portland-based artist in question is an individual, duo, or ensemble as scant information about the outfit is available either with the release or outside of it (a live YouTube video does, however, show two silhouetted figures milling about on stage during a performance). Our focus, then, will be primarily on the release itself, which is pretty much as it should be anyway.

Plugh often sounds like what might have resulted had some drummer-less version of Tortoise been commissioned to create an electronics-oriented soundtrack for a remake of Tarkovsky's Solaris. Things are not quite as simple as that, of course, given the occasional emergence of drum machine-styled beats in sceptre fretpen's atmospheric settings. Electronics, synthesizers, and (if I'm not mistaken) guitars figure heavily in the release's seven pieces, most of which are in the one- to three-minute range; one rather dramatic change-up occurs during “Year I Was Born” when field recordings and the drawling banter of some old boys is woven into the track's post-rock-styled framework.

A fretless bass, of all things, appears to position itself at the forefront of the otherwise murky “In Odd Increments,” though it's a bit difficult to be certain when the track lasts a fleeting two minutes, after which an electrical dust-storm of sorts rolls in, ready to consume everything in its path. In that regard, “Diamond Center” plants itself within a more familiar kind of ambient terrain, even if it's of a particularly blustery and combustible kind; by comparison, “8th Floor,” which at nearly seven minutes offers the most extensive presentation of sceptre fretpen's soundworld, balances its foreboding undercurrents with episodes of softly sparkling ambient calm.

February 2017