Each of NONEXISTENT’s members have impressive discographies on their own. Astrud Steehouder, Alex Tucker, and Luke J Murray graft together a codex coated in dust from deep earth sonic excavations and sound design. NONEXISTENT’s soundscapes are saturated with an ancient, trenchant energy that has as much in common with a dystopian future as forgotten neolithic civilizations. This music brings lost artifacts to life.
Steehouder’s expressive synth passages are often the framework for Tucker and Murray to wreak electronic havoc. “UNTITLED 3. (AUBURN VACUUM)” puts Steehouder’s Prophet 8 to good use as dense, radiant drones flow through the piece like a bloodstream giving space to the corroding dissonance. Voices are chopped to pieces, lamenting the piercing fires or singing their praises – it’s hard to know, but the effect is disorienting. Vivid colors spiral against a black backdrop, crystal pads rising at the back of the mix like an ominous warning before everything disappears into the slipstream.
So much of this album is covered in countless textures, making the sound tactile, an expanding swirl of haptic nodes. “UNTITLED 7. (RAISING OCEAN)” grinds over a 0 bpm cavernous, muffled bass explosion while electricity fizzes across a boiling sea. Urgency flashes in red lights, aural winds howling against the last fortress still afloat, broken and alone. The arctic air hurts and in the synth echoes, it stings our skin and reminds us we’re still alive. A similar dynamic batters closer “UNTITLED 9. (COLD WALLS),” but it’s the sound of the aftermath; the first black dawn of a new era that’s bleak and automated. NONEXISTENT’s cohesive tonal structures push down and push down until there’s no air left to breathe. Overwhelming all the senses, the trio is relentless.
It’s not all snarling darkness and oppressive gloom, but even the lighter moments carry a lot of weight. Opener “UNTITLED 1. (TERMINAL STARFALL)” has a soft underbelly, but there’s a sharp, protective enclosing it. Rich strains of hovering pads are featherlight and warm, trying to find a thread of dreams to latch onto, but the acute electronics never let those aspirations take hold. “UNTITLED 5. (DEEPENING GROUND)” is a grey cloud, less still and more stuck. Palpable anxiety runs through its ambient drones, a feeling of certainty that some new, unknown horror is just over the horizon.
NONEXISTENT’s debut is an incredible, often harrowing trip. It’s been such a late-year surprise with an instant impact that it’s as though this album has been with me for years. Steehouder, Tucker, and Murray have tapped into something special and I can only imagine where it goes from here.