by Nick Hanover
At almost the exact halfway mark of Amulets’ new Porta Sessions EP, an achingly beautiful, glittery refrain emerges out of the growling rubble of looping noise. The appearance of this melodic riff is unexpected and mysterious, but that only deepens its impact, creating an effect of spontaneous enchantment, illustrating why even in a noise scene as crowded and diverse as Austin’s, Amulets is unique.
As both an artist and a curator, Amulets has done a tremendous amount to call attention to Austin’s noise community, forging alliances with the electronic and hip hop scenes through his Graveyard Orbit label while his own music shares genetics with Austin’s long thriving post-rock genre. Porta Sessions is one of his most immediately engaging works to date in part because of that post-rock connection, the constant swell and pull of the songs reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky’s orchestrations but more tranquil and utterly free of bombast.
Amulets is capable of using noise to channel menace and anxiety, as the more ambitious False Horizon from earlier in 2016 proved, but Porta Sessions aims for natural majesty. “PS-02” achieves that with that startling refrain but it’s framed by more textural works that feature found sound loop beds and familiar yet alien samples, like the layers of nature sounds that function as the main percussive element of “PS-03.”
“PS-03” is also notable for the way it utilizes more traditional guitar playing to comfort the listener before adding more and more atonal and unexpected elements, ranging from an accordion-like countermelody to a fuzzed out, halting lead riff. The track is less noise driven than the bulk of Amulets’ work, closer in spirit to Robin Guthrie’s playing on Harold Budd’s Mysterious Skin score, but it’s ambient in the truest sense, provoking a serene mood rather than melodic payoffs or hooks.
All of Porta Sessions functions as a nice palate cleanser to False Horizon because of that guitar focus. False Horizon was a work of immense dread, featuring giant washes of synth noise, its melodic elements coming from feedback loops and ghostly tones screaming out of the ether. But even the opener of Porta Sessions, which comes closest to that intensity and menace, hinges on the interplay between delicate, soft guitar lines and the swell of an e-bow on a heavily delayed open string as a central Texas storm brews in the background. The effect is more natural than synthetic, menacing in potential but awe inspiring and somber.
For listeners who are intimidated by the harsher sounds of the Austin noise scene, Amulets’ Porta Sessions serves as a gorgeous welcome, effortlessly communicating the beauty and depth the genre is capable of while still hinting at the intriguing weirdness it’s also able to provide.
Amulets plays the North Door’s Aural Canyon event on Friday, January 27th with Botany, Matthewdavid and more.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover