Voiddweller – Illegal Content (self-released)

A likely commentary on the legalities surrounding sampling, each of the 40 copies of the aptly named Illegal Content comes packaged with one of the source CDs containing samples used on the album. My copy arrived bundled with Nirvana’s Bleach, which took me down its own interesting rabbit hole, recalling basement listening sessions in high school and fumbling through tablature books…

Anyway, one of the fun things for me listening to these songs is not having context for the vast majority of the samples used – I am way removed from all ends of modern popular culture and entertainment, it turns out – giving me an opportunity to appreciate the architecture of the tracks in a pure way.

I’m also assuming Illegal Content is referencing Dante or some shit with his song titles, beginning with “Canto I” and continuing with the names of seven demons, which the artist states represent the seven deadly sins. Dark and claustrophobic, the album could plausibly work as hell’s version of elevator music.

The opening track serves an an introduction, setting the pace for what follows. It ends with a low, modulated voice intoning, “The most important thing is be ready. Be ready, for any of us could die today. You must be ready,” then transitions into a chopped & screwed vaporware vibe for a bit, ultimately shifting gears entirely with industrial beats and noise supporting sole Voiddweller member Trevor Baker’s rhymes.

That Baker makes the connection between Power Electronics and Public Enemy is cool enough on its musical merits – the Bomb Squad would have been considered an avant-garde sound collage collective were it not for the danceable beats and institutionalized racism – but also serves as a solid middle finger to the neo-folk and fascist concerns that haunt the edges of the PE scene.

Generally avoiding trap beats, Baker instead focuses on kick-heavy drum machine patterns that blend well in the frequency spectrum with the swirling noise elements present on most of the tracks. “Mammon” even features some Agoraphobic Nosebleed-style blast beats, then ends with a half-time old school rap outro. (Incidentally, this section reminds me of Beck’s turn on the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Flavor,” to bring up the early ’90s yet again.) On these high energy cuts, Baker’s distorted rasp is exciting, even if I can’t quite make out his lyrics at times.

After all that manic energy, “Belphagor” not only slows it down, but obscures things in sludgy, hazed-out saturation and background synth hiss. These dynamic shifts are part of what makes this brief full-length/long EP – the whole thing clocks in at roughly 24 minutes – succeed as a single statement.

“Satan” explodes with ten seconds of blasts before striking up a Miami Bass boom-bap, though Baker sure as shit ain’t spitting about partying and booty. On “Leviathan” Baker’s lyrics come through more clearly, the beats and backing sounding like they’ve been fed through a bit crusher. The song closes with a doom riff over which Baker screams his friggin head off.

This version of Voiddweller is one I’m most familiar with at live shows – frenetic thrashing around, shouting lyrics over distorted backing tracks. Hearing Baker in more restrained situations is a revelation, as he displays a breadth of approaches and boundless creativity in their execution. That said, closer “Lucifer” races to the end in a blur of cone-toasting harsh noise. Incorporating styles in a manner which seems to only come out of people living in small towns lacking a proper “scene” – Baker resides in Ottumwa, Iowa, perhaps best known as Tom Arnold’s hometown – I’m excited to hear where this young polymath takes his sounds and righteous rage in the future.

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