Gavilán Reyna Russom
The Envoy
Ecstatic Records

Gavilán Reyna Russom first came into my universe as a member of the LCD Soundsystem.  She wasn’t a founding member, but she has played synths and done vocals for the NYC outfit since 2004.  But it turns out she is also a prolific solo artist.  The Envoy is her latest for Ecstatic Records and is an atmospheric collection of tracks and purports to be a soundtrack to Ursula K. LeGuinn’s 1969 novel, The Left Hand of Darkness.  The novel is essentially about an ambassador from another world on some strange planet, where it is always cold and the population is both asexual and agendered.  And so we have nine electronic, coldish tracks to partner with the fifty-year old novel.

Cosey Fanni Tutti guests on the second track, ‘Kemmer,’ which starts with a throbbing synth riff, not unlike the kind Fanni Tutti was pushing out with Throbbing Gristle back in the day.  This throbbing is then joined by Fanni Tutti’s voice, which feels both typically dismenbodied and sexual as she recites passages from the novel.  This is the heart of the album, the centre of it.  All roads lead to and from ‘Kemmer.’  The music never really emerges much from that synth riff, the throbbing, though glimmers of other synths float around and over that base track.

The nearly titular track, ‘The Envoy’ begins in a cold, almost 2001-ish feeling, and for the next five minutes, the synthesizers alternate pitch, though the track never changes feeling.  In a lot of ways, it is a segue to ‘Place Inside the Blizzard,’ which is a particularly well-entitled track.  In part, this is because I am writing this review in the wake of a dumping of 40+cm of snow on my small New England town, but also because the pulsing synths, all dark, feel like they have burrowed us deep inside something, that they are protecting us and keeping us safe from something out there in the dark.

‘Strength Out of the Dark’ begins with a stutter-stepping proto-beat before it is overwhelmed with a bubblying, though not necessarily bubbly, synth bit.  Then the track remains in a stasis whilst a moan or a digitized sound, travels from left to right speaker and back over top, before saturating in both speakers at once, for the next three-and-a-half minutes.

After ‘Center of Time’ essentially cleanses out palette with a slow piano and various electronic sounds hushed in the background, we are launched into ‘I Bleed I Weep I Sweat,’ which sounds like a rushing cascade of water before the synthesized beat takes over.  I find myself thinking this sounds a lot like something Fever Ray would produce sonically, though Russom does not do vocals. Nonetheless, the pulsing rhythm of this track is both catchy and creepy at the same time.  This is the kind of music, when listening to it at night, you are looking over your shoulder to see if someone is watching you

On the penultimate track, ‘Discipline of Presence,’ the legendary American trombonist Peter Zummo stops by to lay down this eery, cold, android-ish trombone riff over top of another pulsing synth riff, which chugs along with the occasional crash and motor of keyboard bits over top.

As I listen to this album and I have now three times straight, so I clearly like it, I keep hearing the Wolf Parade’s ‘Julia’ in my head, especially the part where our hero in the song, a Soviet Cosmonaut is left out in space:

They flip one switch at Mission Control
And I’m never coming home
Yulia, Yulia, Yulia

Oh, oh like waking from a fever dream
Oh, oh like floating in the salty sea
I’m standing here, drifting alone
And my heart beats slow
And I hope they bring my body back, Yulia
So when they turn the cameras on you
Baby, please still speak for me
Turn up to the dark above you
As they edit me from history
I’m 20 million miles from my comfortable home
This place is very cold
Yulia, Yulia, Yulia.
In other words, Russom has provided the soundtrack to a late 1960s futuristic, space-travel novel rather brilliantly.  The album peters out, where distended piano chords clamour and clash as we fade out into that cold, distant world.