The spatial quality of music is sometimes undervalued in record reviews. When we note a song’s density or thickness off-hand in reference to the production or amount of sounds congealing into one, it’s an assessment of how much space the music takes up. Through spatial occupation, songs demand our attention – they have a presence that’s either meek and thus easily cast aside, or somehow physically substantial and enthralling. Some minimalist composers eschew meter and rhythm altogether in favor of exclusively manipulating the spatial qualities of sounds to extract response from the listener.
Rock bands do the same thing, usually unknowingly, when they create heavily saturated recordings that seem to spew from speakers and fill the room. Sonoran desert dwelling psychedelic terror ensemble Destruction Unit are journeymen spatial rockers (space-rockers too, but that’s something else entirely.) The group’s latest album, Deep Trip, changes the cabin pressure in a plane when a passenger plays it through headphones. Its spatial presence knocks family portraits off of the mantle. Heard in a compact automobile, it’s advisable to roll down the windows. Throughout the entire recording, regardless of a given songs’ tempo, tension or tone, Destruction Unit’s latest is massive.
Tempos shift from fetid dirges to damaged thrash, generally avoiding the mid-speed trudge of Destruction Unit’s last album, Void. Opener “The World on Drugs” boasts both extremes, as if the group wishes to capture the international narcotic states of spun out or smacked back, the universal “upper or downer” query that defies language barriers. It’s followed by the ironically titled “Slow Death Sounds,” which deals speed and brevity alone. Yet, as with many of Deep Trip’s up-tempo moments, Destruction Unit inserts syncopated rhythms even at break-neck speed. “God Trip” is faster, but there’s even more rhythmic minutiae, like the verse’s hyper-active motorik beat with high-hats progressively loosening before a cymbal-berating chorus.
Deep Trip impressively couples clarity with density. It’s mixed to showcase the technique of Destruction Unit’s individual members. Percussive subtleties and collaborative nuance are often lost in recordings so saturated with guitar tracks and feedback, but all of the right details cut through the muck at the right times. There’s a riff above the noisy, nearly clipping crash cymbals during grandiose closer “Night Loner.” Only, in another section the riff is buried beneath noise, because the switch emphasizes the vocals. Deep Trip treads similar territory as last year’s Void, but superior production chisels the details. In this case, it’s an audible upgrade akin to switching from paper rubbing to xerox, but that’s about all it needs. Void’s guitars sounded amorphous and dark, but Deep Trip illuminates the textures’ scars and boils without sacrificing spatial presence.
Ryan Rousseau has helmed the Destruction Unit moniker for over a decade now, but the current incarnation is only a few albums old. Guitarist Jes Aurelius is a member of the enigmatic Ascetic House art collective that creates and releases videos, sounds and printed matter. He’s also the band’s most vocal spokesman lately, perhaps because Rousseau rightfully wishes to emphasize Destruction Unit’s departure from its earlier incarnation.
Rousseau’s vocals are also given more definition than on Void, though it’s not exclusively through sound engineering. His menacing baritone sounds more confident and expressive, especially on the perpetually climbing album highlight “Final Flight.” It starts quietly with Rousseau uttering short phrases until he sputters out and cues the chaotic outro with a yelp. Like kraut rock indebted heaviness in general, slowbuilding to messy noise is a well-tread trope, but few practitioners are as spatially adept as Destruction Unit. Deep Trip demands attention, which brings its exceptional details into focus.