Former NON-affiliate Olin Caprison (VIOLENCE) isn’t shy about letting their hand bleed: this project is about power and the cosmetic machinations that mask its inherent violence, and Human Dust to Fertilize the Infertile Garden is a work built from and bent on this machine’s dismemberment. It’s clear from its first few metallic beats and insectile swells that its focus is examining different assemblages of symbols de- and then re-colonized from different existing traditions (industrial, grime, R&B, black metal, hip-hop, noise). Its intellectual appeal, it appears, rides on an assumption that obscuring these musical roots through hypersynthesis will illuminate and eliminate an arbitrary gap between these expressive modalities, leveling white-washed pop sensibilities with an intersection of marginalized expressions. Its aesthetic appeal, however, derives from our enjoyment of these familiar modalities separately.
Like in a strategic card game, Caprison is most successful on Human Dust when their hand is held close and their focus is on performing, bluffing, and playing suits that work in their favor. Caprison plays a remarkably adaptive game here, executing a strange and ostensibly counter-productive string of gambits, yet they fall behind when this unpredictable strategy becomes apparent as a gimmick. If this music is indeed a weapons demonstration against systematic inequity, Caprison’s strategy is one of obfuscation. Deeply original in its radical cosmopolitanism, Human Dust to Fertilize the Impotent Garden lacks a kind of stainless luster that makes contemporaries like Chino Amobi, Elysia Crampton, and Arca so perpetually affective at disarming grime.
Musically, VIOLENCE’s compositional strengths (and there are countless) are also its pitfalls. Lyrically, Caprison is monolithic, affirming that they are most interested in splicing dissimilar ideas and motifs together for affect. Opener “Be Still” sounds like a microtonal shift of “Hypnotize” by Biggie, interrupted by grimey jet engine revs. In a voice reminiscent of N-Prolenta, Caprison sings: “Memories that don’t fit. Things you say don’t mix… These circles won’t square.” Beyond whatever its intended meaning is, the line seems like a thesis for what is going on (or what will be going on) sonically throughout Human Dust: things that don’t seemingly fit together exist here side-by-side as they have throughout our planet’s brutal history. On follow-up “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” an incredible rap track that rivals Lil Ugly Mane’s/bedwetter’s fuzziest jams, Caprison investigates domestic power dynamics, bondage, submission, and affirmation. Most other lyrics are lost, but Caprison strikes a suitable balance between vocal punctuations and instrumental fricatives as it plays out. What remains remarkable is Human Dust’s unwavering conceptual focus, even as it meanders through a vast plane of musical worlds; what becomes ultimately burdensome is its conceptual same-ness in how it addresses difference.
Sonically, this is about as maximalist as this kind of shit gets, which is in its extremeness an impressive yet exhausting feat (for both artist and audience). Cornerstone track “Human Dust” teems with scrap-metal strings and caustic synth squelches that drown out Caprison’s yells; it sounds at times like Death Grips performing in a demolition site in Japan with Otomo Yoshihide (a truly good thing). Its total stereo domination is a perfect foil for Arca’s subdued self-titled release earlier this year, yet as with many other tracks on Human Dust, there are stunning phrases here that get lost in what quickly becomes an electrical storm of noise that only relents for moments of ultra-compressed ambience as on “The Third Tiered Candle,” which is a molasses-y vamp before it is abruptly interrupted by a wall of distortion, a robotic monologue, and an unexpected but truly gnarly thrash solo. Closer “…A Black Child Purloined in the Profane Dream, The Heart of Darkness (Wholly Alien, One Drop of White Blood)” is a thematic recap of much of what has already passed, a reiteration of what was most affective when Human Dust’s decimation switch was turned up to 11. Its overwhelming flatlining, however, reveals that perhaps obliterating borders by weaponizing cultural artifacts for their sheer weight eliminates possibilities for aesthetic growth.
A victim of its own weightiness, Human Dust to Fertilize the Impotent Garden contains a multitude of mineable truths and weaponizable shards, but buried deep in its mix they become indistinct from those materials we have always used for partitions: clay, stone, metal. But despite its flaws, what VIOLENCE has going for it as a project is a wide potential for unearthing barriers across human planes as its seeds are sown far and deep. Four or five listens in, burnt out as I am, my burning curiosity for what kind of terrifying outgrowths are gestating here outweighs my heavy heart and tired ears.