Forty-five seconds into the first track of Oberlin’s new Hidden Thorns disc, you may wonder if you’ve stumbled into a prog-rock opus. We’re offered a short synth line that has all the hallmarks of an Iron Butterfly side. Thankfully, this is a false alarm.
These seven new electronic pieces are entirely improvised, recorded and mixed by Alexander Holtz. While elements of his work may harken back to the days of overwrought organ solos, he pairs these dramatic flourishes with thick, warm drones.
A dreamy, lazy effort called “Emma Lee” is among the album’s highlights. Its focal point is a recording of children’s voices, set against more drones, ambient noise and what sounds like a processed guitar. Each contrasts with the other just enough to give the piece character.
“Two Planets” follows; another strong work. Holtz doesn’t make liberal use of distortion, but it’s applied effectively here. He’s one of those improvisers who finds ways to produce work that sounds carefully composed.
These seven pieces are spontaneous, in the sense that they don’t follow any conventional structure. At the same time though, Holtz’s work never feels accidental.
The album’s title track is also its longest piece, at 14:34. The drone warbles enough to qualify as a reference to the good old analog days. Over top, an abrasive synth sound repeats itself throughout much of the piece. It is a study in pure electronics.