Ben Billington has devoted a decade of his life to Chicago’s overlapping scenes of experimental DIY, electronic music, and free jazz as a part of seminal outfits including Tiger Hatchery, ONO, and ADT. His solo music under the Quicksails moniker compresses his mastery of synthesis and percussion into dense electro-acoustic compositions animated by stacked layers of rhythm and alien texture. Mortal, his first LP for Hausu Mountain following releases on labels like Spectrum Spools, NNA Tapes, and Captcha, finds Quicksails piecing together some of his most complex compositions to date, steering his network of synths, samplers, and acoustic instruments through conflicting emotional territories as a means of personal catharsis and abstracted self expression. Each track on Mortal presents its own mosaic of juxtaposed textures and moods, as electronic and acoustic elements swell together into short narrative arcs: lush polyphonic synth lines clash or collude over basslines that trudge through the nether regions of the mix; massive saxophone and trumpet fanfares (performed by Billington’s ADT bandmates Carlos Chavarria and Jake Acosta) weave through layers of complementary electronic melody; busy percussion lines sound out from drum kit, hand percussion, and drum machine, smearing together into a rhythmic bedrock that blurs the line between the synthetic and the organic.
Quicksails composed Mortal during a year of intense personal upheavals, and he presents the album as a series of obliquely diaristic sketches coded with the emotional residue of real life events. “The Compound Blues” evokes claustrophobia with its queasy bassline and shuffling percussion, but reclaims a more even mindset as layers of yearning saxophone and filtered synth washes drift into the mix. “Silent Separation” bursts over spastic IDM rhythmic grids and light-speed electronic squelches, which all come to share space with walls of major-key synth harmony. “Left Temple” mimics the mental overload of a migraine episode with arrhythmic noise formants and dizzy peals of atonality. For all the darkness this music is capable of channeling, Quicksails’ optimism and joyfulness shines through in each track’s baroque construction and inevitably redemptive climax. He finds room in his compositions for untold layers of acoustic instrumentation, from tabla to gong to gamelan-like chimes, which achieve a form of reverse synthesis by becoming nearly indistinguishable from his electronics. Meanwhile, his synth patches pound out and burst with the attack and the fine-grained textures of acoustic percussion, or blend seamlessly in electro-acoustic bliss with sax and trumpet leads. Quicksails explores the uncanny valley between performance styles and traditions, achieving a hybridized performance style that uses the experimental electronic and free jazz vocabularies as tools for nuanced storytelling and pointed personal exploration.
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