After 28 years of recording as Blue Sausage Infant, Washington, DC based musician Chester Hawkins released Semisolids in 2014, a set of drones, Kosmiche excursions, spaced out rhythmic electronics, Italian horror inspired soundtracks, soundscapes, noise and more, that was the first album under his own name.
Hawkins’ new album, Apostasy Suite, is what he describes as “The result of a long fascination with the idea of purification by burning: of stripping away all value systems imposed by the outside, to excavate a core of pure self”. Hawkins communicates his themes through six live recordings, starting and ending with “corruptions of the catholic mass”, and with heavy trance tracks in between. I like the promo sheet’s general description of Hawkins’ music: “The goal remains the creation of deep and elegant trance states with a glaze of paranoid tension”. The man is on a righteous path. My curiosity was further aroused by a hand written note stuck to the CD cover saying, “This one may alienate some fans”. Interesting… I wonder what feats of sonic derring-do Hawkins is attempting here?
Mass/Easter opens with a slow church organ melody underscored by a droning organ line. Frantically racing electronics soon overpower the organ and now we’re jettisoned into space where the spacecraft is tooling along with pulsating waves and other miscellaneous effects, though there’s also a keyboard drone which hints that we may not have completely escaped the pew. Equinox is next and combines freaky alien effects with minimal drone waves that are hypnotically intense. Hawkins soon develops multiple parallel lines of drones, soundscapes and electronic patterns, creating a tension-laden ambience. Later a robotically bouncy sequenced pattern takes the lead, surrounded by a darkly somber, spaced out orchestral soundscape atmosphere with lots of fun alien effects thrown into the mix. Intifada starts off cosmically meditative. But then a pounding and somewhat threatening rhythmic pulse comes crashing in, bashing along assertively like it’s trying to develop a dance groove. It’s soon aided by a more comfortably rhythmic and melodic sequenced groove that makes it all sound a bit more musical, though the focal point is on upping the rhythmic intensity. Ultimately things calm down for the finale with a cool combination of heavenly soundscapes and dark moodiness. No Body further demonstrates Hawkins’ flair for contrasting sensations of spaced out meditative bliss and strained tension. Exterminator Pump takes us into the spacecraft with all the surrounding bleeps, blurps, and engine pulsations, making for what soon becomes a dizzying symphony of experimental space electronics. But with Mass/Dissolution we’re back to more desecration of the mass (or mass desecration if you prefer). It’s a 20 minute epic finale to the set, recorded live last year at the Sonic Circuit Festival in Silver Spring, Maryland. We start with a multi-drone chorus of various pitches and tones, one of which has a trippy electronic didgeridoo sound. Eventually we settle into a minimal electronic Berlin School meets Industrial hybrid at a futuristic World of Tomorrow exhibit. Lots happening here. One of my favorite segments is when the cosmic mower is trimming the barren surface of a dead planet while a fleet of space pods hover overhead impatiently waiting for the lawn service to finish so they can land. I’ll bet it was a blast hearing Hawkins perform this live.
For more information visit the Chester Hawkins web site at: http://chesterhawkins.org
Order Apostasy Suite and other Chester Hawkins and Blue Sausage Infant music at: http://intangiblearts.bandcamp.com
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz