Chester Hawkins – “Semisolids” (Intangible Arts 2014, IA016, CD)

Washington, DC based musician Chester Hawkins first came to my attention through his recordings as Blue Sausage Infant, a project he decided to retire after 28 years and now continues to record under his own name. While Blue Sausage Infant was Hawkins’ own project, from one album to the next it could include a variety of guests. Semisolids is (I believe) Hawkins’ first post-BSI release, and all tracks were improvised live with no assistance from collaborators.

The set opens with Iodine. A low end rumbling drone lays the foundation, over which multiple layers of electronics are added, including throbbing waves, playful flittering sounds, intense rising and falling streams, laser beam effects that slide along like alien caterpillars, and strange anguished cries. It’s not so much an excursion than a Kosmiche adventure into sound development and bringing sounds together in interesting ways. The Brood is similar, though does develop into more of a cosmic journey, and I like how Hawkwins strikes a balance between cold minimalism and peaceful meditative drift.

We’ve also got some rhythm oriented tracks. On Nematode, Hawkins lays down a rhythmic pulse that conjures up images of a strange off-kilter dance for robots. Parallel rhythms are added for an electronic “band” effect, and is soon led by a cold but pleasant “almost” melody, surrounded by an atmospheric spaceship landing vibe, which all struck me as something like Kraftwerk meets The Residents. Plasmid is similar but a bit more overtly melodic, though in a still playfully robotic syncopated fashion, and I like how the basic melody is surrounded by a frenetic parade of meteor shower effects, soaring, and often screaming synth lines, and rumbling noise drones. The rhythms continue on Isle Of Dogs, an eerily spaced out groove tune.

The promo sheet compares Malattia del Sonno to Italian horror, and indeed this darkly thematic piece sounds like The Excorist and Suspiria themes glommed together and shot into space. Though not Italian horror, Slender Loris has a darkly foreboding and deep space thematic feel, and the general vibe of a horror/sci-fi blend that would make primo soundtrack material. I like the proggy keys and surging electronic effects at the end. Proximity Fuze sounds like a roundup of everything we’ve heard on the album so far. It’s simultaneously atmospheric, thematic and rhythmic. It’s energetic yet floating. It’s a canvas of sound that zips along down a rickety yet linear path. The volume and intensity level continually build, until reaching a feverish pace of winding anguished space waves and a steadily syncopated dervish-like pattern. Lots happening here; one of my favorite tracks of the set. Finally, From Away includes some of the harshest noise of the set, but like much of the album is balanced by contrasting soundscapes and effects. Another darkly thematic piece, parts of which sound like being in a forest on some distant planet, populated by alien wildlife.

In summary, Semisolids is a banquet of contrasting elements, employed in cooperative and interesting ways. For an extra fun experience, put on the headphones and listen while reading the wild cut-up style text in the digipak.

For more information visit the Chester Hawkins web site at:

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

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