Contemporary music from everywhere

ps – Volatile


We have been instructed to listen to ps’s new album at 3 am, alone. Filipe Cruz, the man behind the initials, offers just one note of caution: “use headphones.”

It’s not bad advice. There is a lot to listen to here, on this 11th album from ps. Volatile is a detailed, intricate work that will have you nudging the volume up repeatedly.

The disc is suitably titled.

“My music for me is a catharsis,” Cruz told me. “Volatile was mostly about how things can get out of hand so easily in general, with life, relationships with your loved ones, friendships … The album grew to become about that inner struggle to keep some sense of stability. Dealing with being disappointed by others, feeling misunderstood, trying to look past your own pain to understand the other point of view. It also relates to depression, feeling suicidal, the lack of value life has in the cosmic sense of things. That’s where the name comes from. Volatile is not the explosion, it’s an uneasy feeling that you could lose it all at any second. And living with that feeling over a long period of time.”

Cruz relies heavily on spoken word segments, from sources like Still Alice, Reservoir Dogs and an instructional video on missile guidance systems. As prominent as these are, it is the tapestry of static and other electronic noises he’s weaved beneath the surface that makes the work so absorbing.

I asked Cruz about process, and he described his never-ending search for movies, television series and documentaries worth sampling. “Sometimes I also do field recordings of different things like walking down streets, gardens, etc. I use a Zoom H4N; pretty happy with it. Then it’s usually down to trying to do a mixtape with some of the more recent sounds gathered, testing different layers, different things, managing volumes and equalization, fading sounds in and out of the mix, figuring out some sort of progression that makes sense and throwing in some of the sampled vocals to see if they fit. Eventually the mix grows into a narrative of some sort which makes me go hunt for more specific sounds or other samples that carry on that narrative.”

Because the spoken word recordings all originate in their own, specific context, they work both with and against the electronics. You’ll find your attention bouncing back and forth between the music, the voices and the interactions between the two. Part of the result is that the album stands up well, even after repeated listens. You just keep finding more.

“For Volatile in specific I decided to also try some spoken word reading of The Vegetarian by Han Kang, which won the Man Booker Prize. It has these particularly dark passages in it where the protagonist describes in first person the dream she is having. It had this very raw/lost/psychotic/psychedelic/uneasy feeling to it, which I thought might fit well with some of my sounds.”

It is not an easy listen. It is unsettling and at times severe. You may not find it cathartic yourself. But it is clear what Cruz set out to do, and in that respect the album is a great success.

Volatile is similar in terms of technical concept to what I had done for A Moment Secluded in Life,” says Cruz. “It’s much darker and raw. But it retains the contemplative nature of drone ambient sounds. If you listen to my stuff from 10 or 12 years ago, I was doing much darker, harsher, psychedelic, claustrophobic, visceral works. By comparison to those, Volatile is just soothing music for the soul, despite its grittiness.”

The entire ps catalogue is available from Enough Records.

Kevin Press

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