The latest release from Oakland, California’s n5MD label is by sound designer, composer and engineer Daniel McCagh. McCagh is the latest Australian artist to be released by the label following compatriots Boy Is Fiction, Stray Theories (Australia via New Zealand) and Tim Koch to be released by the label. McCagh has a couple of digital self releases in the EP and single in “Transcended” and “Suspense” respectively. “Altered States” is his first full length and follows on from work he has done in the commercial arena.
“”Altered States” is a detailed opening statement of experimental aural vignettes by an artist that has clearly spent the time to master his craft. Digitally manipulated acoustic instruments form the backbone for McCagh’s wall-of-sound aesthetic painting pictures of bleak futures where the tracks dance, or more aptly, shiver their way to sharp collapse. In short, McCagh makes ambient music with teeth. A form of experimental music with soul, or faded formation of industrialized machine music shrouded by layers of aural gauze, each piece emotively twisting and turning in and out of focus. “Altered States” is a brilliant inaugural proclamation from artist to watch.”
You cannot really out a label on the music of “Altered States”. The best sort of classification would be “electronic” which is an open ended description, much like the music on the album. If you were to give and RIYL hint, then the name Ben Frost comes to mind as both artists have a way of constructing pieces that are epically minded, electronically based and have a bit of a bite to them. McCagh has contributed sound design and composed for companies such as Volkswagon, Huawei, Acura and Polestar and it appears that these experiences has been a good grounding in exploring his art and creating his style which is a fluid mix of Classical and electronic approaches.
The album is one best enjoyed in it’s entirety as it has a soundtrack feel to it that is best observed via headphones with nothing distracting you as you are able to hear deep into the depths of the music and pick out minute details. It doesn’t hurt that the album doesn’t feel like a collection of tracks, rather it is like a living, breathing organic thing that moves through moods which are pensive at times, melancholic at others and then bordering on hostile in others.
Pieces like “Aurora” (also the title of a Ben Frost album) is one that demonstrates McCagh’s sound design in which he can easily add a buzzing menace into a melodic tonal piece and change the configuration of it to a soundscape that is a hive of activity. If you were to listen only to the title track and “Leviathan Spine” you may get the idea of the album being more rooted in the electronic world were industrial or darker forms of dance (but not dance) music reside, but then a piece like “Untitled” flips the script on it’s head with a chaotic string driven, driving drone or the pair of “Epoch” tracks that are full of ambience and synth pads, with “Epoch II” being the most cinematic piece on the album using strings and field recordings to further flesh out the piece. Then there is a track like the penultimate piece “Collapse” which manages to combine the various sounds styles and approaches into a singular piece which is as much electronic as it is string driven as much ambient as it is noisy. For me it would be a good example of the album as a whole, that would naturally be revealed upon further investigation.
The album is one that if you highlight or focus on a certain track you will miss out on the big picture. By narrowing your attention to one particular piece you will limit the scope of the album which reveals McCagh to be a Composer. Sometimes this term is used to frequently. Sure all music needs to be composed, but there is composer and Composer. The difference for me between the two is entirely related to the overall feel, scope and sound of the pieces. You can tell as a listener when time has been put into particular recordings and when the composer is musically literate. By literate I mean rather than just being able to create music, they have a wealth of knowledge and influences from which they can easily delve into, which results in well though out and whole pieces with many dimensions and depths to them. McCagh shows on “Altered States” that these sort of qualities or characteristics are part of his music and for that reason “Altered States” is an enjoyable listen and one worth checking out.
“Altered States” is available from n5MD on Limited Edition Smoke vinyl, CD and Digital.