Flange Circus – Katabasis
Flange Circus – Katabasis – Album Review
‘Hauntronica’ they say… Fair enough I say… I mean…I get where they’re coming from based on what this all sounds like, even if the idea of another sub-genre sure makes a bullet seem mighty tasty to me…
Anyhow. Yes! I enjoy the strangest side of what music has to offer, and Flange Circus certainly qualifies. You can hear that their new record Katabasis ain’t gonna be your typical experience right from the get-go as “Curse Of Milltown” opens up with a misty & mysterious sound…almost like music that comes with its own fog rolling in. Ultimately, it very much serves as a kind of intro tune of sorts at less than two minutes in length…”Curse Of Milltown” is here to more or less establish the kind of vibe we’re in for.
Oddly enough…and I do mean odd…”It’s A Tree” was the lead-single floated out there before Katabasis was released this year, coming out back in October of 2022 in time for your Halloween festivities. I can get behind that…”It’s A Tree” has that like…John Carpenter-esque flavor to it if you know what I mean. If you’re thinking Karen Carpenter, then you do not know what I mean. Don’t get it twisted, I love her & she’s a legend, but she’d be the wrong reference here. For a track like “It’s A Tree,” you can hear the maestro of malevolence himself, John Carpenter, and his influence on a cut like this one. It’s a tougher track to examine in the sense that it’s by no means any kind of typical single…but to be honest, it would have been hard to pin down what the right way to go about promoting a record like Katabasis would actually be. To me, “It’s A Tree” is nearly as logical of a conclusion as any other…and I dig it in the same way that I’d dig on stuff from the Fantomas crack at horror themed music on The Director’s Cut. Flange Circus is decisively less abrasive than that comparison, but the murky & mysterious vibe is very similar. Dig the bass-lines at the core of the rhythm, and the main synth line definitely carries the weight of the comparisons to something like Carpenter would create for its simplicity & directly haunting atmosphere.
That being said, would a track like “Rhizolith” probably have made for a better choice as a lead-single? Sure! But that’s not always how music works y’all…sometimes it’s a matter of what’s rolling off the production line first, sometimes it’s a matter of what track’s gonna work better with an upcoming Halloween, and sometimes the right choices are never made at all…you never really know what the case is on the other side of the speakers. Anyway…”Rhizolith” is like…my jam. I have other jams on this record too of course, but if we’re talking about the way this record begins, good gravyboat lighthouse, “Rhizolith” is freakishly superb. No joke…here’s some real-time information for ya to prove the degree of accessibility in this strangeness – my wife, who basically likes music made by folks wearing sandals all the time like Jack Johnson and probably SHOULDN’T dig on what Flange Circus creates according to her typical tastes in music, just burst into my office here at the studio, and fully threw down a dance party of one. It might seem like a bizarre comment to toss into a review, but the reality has always been that she’s an incredible measurement of what crossover sound really is…if she likes something on the strange side of sound like “Rhizolith,” you can guarantee that she won’t be alone and that Flange Circus is really onto something here. I mean…I liked it FIRST, so I want that on record…but she ain’t wrong to wanna bust out some dance moves to this track too…”Rhizolith” is a P-H-A-T jam you can’t help but dig on y’all.
“We’re In A Now?” What in the titular weirdness…? I suppose it’s better than being in a never, but I’m only guessing…I don’t know that for a fact. This track goes for a mellower & more melodic dimension of their Hauntronica sound…and I feel like “We’re In A Now” should have no real problems securing a good verdict in the court of public opinion. They even drop in the occasional word here & there throughout this track as it plays on…but don’t get it twisted, it ain’t gonna be like you’re all set to sing along, so just calm down there partner. I really like the main melody line in this track to begin with, but I also appreciate how it plays such a significant role in the way this cut becomes a master-class in contrast. As in, so much of “We’re In A Now” actually feels like it’s moving at a fairly slower pace due to the main hypnotic effect of the synth line on the surface…but if you’re paying attention to what’s happening around it as it plays on, this song shifts gears big time and actually starts moving extremely quickly as it continues on towards the end. With their main melody remaining in place & locked into its central idea, you might not even realize how quickly this gets moving by the time you’re already in the thick of it all. “We’re In A Now” is a quality cut, no doubt about that…a good mix of artistic depth with a riotous finale & clever samples along the way…and I fully guarantee, if you loop this song five or more times in a row you’ll get completely lost on the inside of your own home, if not sucked into a whole other dimension.
Shout-outs to the Analogue Trash crew in the UK for pairing up with such a unique entity in the music scene like Flange Circus…this is one of those signings that just makes sense…they both complement each other when it comes right down to it. “Dew Flirt” works for me y’all…I might even be inclined to put this one up there among my favorites on the record. Is it the typical vibes of Flange Circus? That’s a really good question, and I thank me for asking…but I don’t really know…yet. I’m just catching a ride on this bandwagon now, but as far as I can tell from what I see online, Flange Circus has been around for about a decade or more. So maybe they occasionally dip out of their Hauntronica vibes and try on something a bit more on the beautiful side of sound like you’d find in “Dew Flirt” – I’ll have to check out the back catalog and catch myself up to what they’ve been creating. Suffice it to say, on this particular record, “Dew Flirt” becomes like a tiny ray of sunshine peering through the darkness that’s been haunting the set-list to this point, and if only for the opportunity to catch our breath and breathe easy for a moment without feeling like we’re about to permanently slip into the spirit realm, I very much appreciate this song. On my repeat spins through this album, I could always count on “Dew Flirt” to be the track that made it seem like I didn’t need to keep every single damn light on in the house as I listened to Katabasis.
“Three Foot Tall And Hairy” – I’ll have you know I’m 5’8.5,” tyvm. I’m sorry…what’s that? This isn’t about me? Isn’t everything about me? They mentioned hairiness, I just assumed it was about me – it’s really not eh? Fair enough. The one time I thought looking like a bridge troll was going to pay off for me and it turns out that Flange Circus is getting their inspiration elsewhere…so be it. Tracks like this are always interesting in my opinion…you’ll find there are more words added into this cut than the vast majority of songs on this record – but does that mean you’ll hear’em? Not necessarily. With the heavily filtered effects on them, it’s like, you know they’re there, you know they’re speaking to you, you know they’re actually adding significantly to the song…but what in the all hell they’re saying, you probably won’t really know. You’ll catch the occasional piece here & there, but it’s not like you’re going to come out of listening to “Three Foot Tall And Hairy” and be like, “I know EXACTLY what they mean!” Alright, that’s not entirely true…you won’t know exactly what they’re SAYING…but as far as what they mean, you might actually…tracks like “Three Foot Tall And Hairy” really have a chilling vibe you certainly feel. With that epic low-end synth beat infused into this cut, it ends up being pretty epically ominous overall.
As much as I appreciate how a track like “Dew Flirt” was able to lighten-up the record by a degree or two, the counterweight comes through “I Find This Very Strange” a couple doors down in the lineup of this album. And I’ve gotta say…this is freakin’ EXCEPTIONAL stuff when it comes right down to it – I’d probably say a cut like “I Find This Very Strange” is award worthy y’all…Flange Circus has absolutely nailed this to the nth degree. Obviously their whole sound, style, and production has been relentlessly on-point throughout the distance of this record, so sometimes it’s the small tweaks or smart choices that separate the really damn good from the undeniably great. In the case of this particular track, it’s all about finding the perfect vocal samples to work with…everything from the tone of her voice, to the natural texture she’s got in her cadence, enhanced by the inherent weirdness that Flange Circus seems to do oh-so-well…I felt like this track was one of the most realized visions they’ve come up with so far. It’s got a whole lot of sensory sound…from the textures and tones, to the effects in the mix – if you want a moment in music that’ll cling to your bones long after you’ve stopped listening, this will be the track to do that for ya. I was freakin’ GLUED to this song dear readers, dear friends…it’s so eerily captivating – I couldn’t take my ears off of it. “I Find This Very Strange” for sure, but I also find this equally fantastic.
The cohesion of the set-list on Katabasis also deserves real credit for the success of this record…it all fits, it all seems to work, and for as strange as it might appear (because it IS), I think people out there will genuinely marvel over the fact that this album is a whole lot more listenable than they might first assume. “GongSandalMan” is actually really interesting to me. When it comes to the production and the way things sound, it’s got a ton in common with what you’d hear in how Pretty Hate Machine came out from Nine Inch Nails back in the day – yet when it comes to the structure and choices being made in how this moves in such an unpredictable stop/start kind of way, it almost has just as much in common with Prince’s “Bob George” from the oddities found in the Purple One’s catalog. So…yeah…ultimately, I approve – I dig this track too. I’m well aware that a song like “GongSandalMan” would be typically regarded as more accessible than the previous cut would be…but we’re basically splitting hairs – I think that anyone that likes “I Find This Very Strange” would still dig what they find in “GongSandalMan,” but I don’t know that it necessarily would work vice versa for one & all – that make sense? Let’s be real here though…if you’ve already made it eight songs deep into this lineup on Katabasis, you’re sticking around to see how it all plays out, but also because you’re also every bit as much of a genuine freak as they are.
It’s really a record for you audiophiles out there…that’s what it is. If you’re all about the exquisite pleasures of aural oddities and textural strangeness, then there’s no doubt that Katabasis is for YOU. I know it’s for ME, because as I told you earlier on, everything is about ME. For instance – I didn’t find this album – this album found ME…and I’m so very happy that it did; this belongs on my playlists for sure. Is it gonna be for everyone out there? Heck no! But it is for ME and I’m tellin’ ya folks, I love you and all, but this really is all about what I can stockpile my own playlists with and finding bands like Flange Circus in the underground that up my street cred just by knowing about them. “Wasp Flute” is fun…it’s kind of like what you’d imagine the cloud levels of a Super Mario game would be like if that Lakitu character was running the show up there. So you know…I’m sure you can already hear it in your head just by that description now…psychedelic, twisted, hypnotic, and yet still with the intense chance to win yourselves some savage coins before it’s all over – and who wouldn’t want to listen to something like that, am I right? It’s more than fair to say that Flange Circus is making fringe-based music, but that’s clearly part of the intended design…if you’re like me & you hear a track like “Wasp Flute,” and you dig it & wanna turn it on up to sup at its sweet, sweet sonic nectar…you’ll always bee welcome to do so. You see what I did there? I made a bee joke when they’re clearly not the same thing as wasps. Moving on.
I believe, if I’m not mistaken here, that “Diabolical Bird” was also released as a single…and still made it out there way back in the year 2022 before it was all said & done, a couple months before Katabasis officially dropped online in February this year. Of all the cuts on this record to choose as a single, I’d have to say that this particular one makes the most sense by a clear country mile…those low-end bass-lines are freakin’ irresistible, the hooks are uncanny & brilliantly catchy, and after what’s certainly been a run filled with songs that would appeal to a niche & narrow audience, Flange Circus blows open the ending of their brand-new album with what’s gotta be their most accessible & universal cut of’em all. For real y’all…”Diabolical Bird” will be that track that makes you do a double take and wonder if it’s the same band you’ve just been listening to all that time, and I assure you it is. It’s the closest to something like “Rhizolith” that you’ve been since track three in the lineup, and the wild degree of accessible sound will certainly be welcomed by just about everyone listening to “Diabolical Bird” at the very end. When it comes right down to it, universal vibes are universal for a reason…we can ALL feel the rhythm and pulse to a track like this one, and the hooks are so impressively on-point that I’d be way more shocked to hear someone didn’t like it rather than that they did. To me, “Diabolical Bird” is THE track on Katabasis that every single one of us would agree on, whether or not you liked all the strange stuff in between like I clearly did. It definitely makes for a killer cut to go out on, and an instant reason to repeat it all again.
Find out more about Flange Circus from their official site at: https://flangecircus.com
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