Black, but white. Sharp, but flat. Brutal, but serene. There’s a record label in Mexico called Umor Rex that manages to creep and jump between these extremes, releasing music that never sounds commonplace. Even their poppiest albums have some kind of forewarning, jagged edge embedded through minor notes and sound effects.
The label’s most recent release is a 10-track cassette tape called Elegy of the Machine, a two-part collection of songs from the no-longer-active Oklahoma band Tank Battalion Attack and the current solo project of the former TBA band member, Aaron Nigh Herndon. Six years ago when Umor Rex formed, one of their first releases was a self-titled EP from TBA. Elegy of the Machine features the EP’s five original tracks on side A and side B has six new songs from Herndon under the moniker Roma Dune. Altogether, the 11 songs are an excellent way to introduce audiences to Herndon’s new work. The flow from side A to B is aurally seamless, with the two styles complementing each other’s respective idiosyncrasies.
The album begins with a cold, scientific welcome into the industrial brain of Tank Battalion Attack. The noises are “Terminator”-like, with sporadic, robotic details and consistent backing rhythm. It’s like you’re trapped in a video game of the future, trying to flee the enemy who is eyeing your every move, firing metal bullets at your back. The second half of track five (starting around the 1:15 mark) exercises the final escape scene of Tank Battalion Attack, moving faster, sounding a bit more like “music,” rather than dark, mathematical turbulence.
Aaaand just when you thought Elegy of the Machine would get “easier” to listen to, you were wrong. Side B’s Roma Dune launches into an immediate, never-ending maze of abrasive beats with track six, “Pillar.” But where “Pillar” scares away the softer listeners, “Tin” reels them back in with a snappy, clicky movement and an underlying whirling buzz that continues on the following track “Chrsh.”
During track “Mrgrt” Roma Dune changes things up again with a swift turn into a fuller, and bubblier feel. “Mrgrt” gets a bit housey, introducing sexy percussion and smooth, gradual transitions. The label says of the variety of sounds on Elegy of the Machine: ”Roma Dune shares some of the concrete, punch to the gut feel of Tank Battalion Attack, with repetition and controlled dissonance as key elements…yet Roma Dune seems to aim for a larger sound vocabulary.”
The closing track of Elegy of the Machine somehow manages to combine nearly every sound heard in the first 10 tracks of the release, showcasing the most variation of all the songs. The three-minute track is tricky to pin down, with a jigsaw formation of noise that bend and mutate throughout.
After a full listen of Elegy of the Machine, one wonders how a person can mentally arrange and prepare such a brilliant, wide array of sounds. What goes through Herndon’s mind to inspire him to create such songs? Who knew a man from Oklahoma could create a futuristic soundtrack? Perhaps he watched too much “Terminator.” Or perhaps he just writes music in an unusual, exceptional way.