(New Album Review) pinkcourtesyphone- Sentimental Something

Few other projects in sound art and ambient music show the sonic scope and thematic poignancy of Richard Chartier’s pinkcourtesyphone. The highly prolific Los Angeles-based sound artist came out with the latest word from this project, Sentimental Something, towards the end of August through the always excellent Important Records, and since I have been something of a rabid fan since I first made the acquaintance of Foley Folly Folio, I had to get my hands on it. If you were not sated with the release of the fine Divertissement, Chartier’s latest collaboration with William Basinski, you are probably more than ready to take the plunge into the chasms of pinkcourtesyphone’s haunted heart.

pinkcourtesyphone, a bit less minimal and more musical than Chartier’s work under his own name, is a thick, susurrant, creeping ambient soundscape of tones from synth modules and sampled cinematic dialogue, as well as other heavily-processed sounds. Details like eerie vocal samples and the not-entirely-sweet somethings of guest vocalists like Evelina Domnitch that frequently crop up in this world do more than just fit with its heady and luxuriously sinister atmosphere. What makes Chartier’s work as pinkcourtesyphone so deliciously necessary is the way that it reflects the arguments of different theoretical outlooks on modernity while referencing a too-beautiful, plush aesthetic rooted in the past. Cold beauty that only appears perfect at first glance often conceals strange monsters at its peripheries. This romantic, spooky duality has much in common with Leyland Kirby’s releases as The Caretaker, a key influence on Chartier, but it also reminds me of the films of Jacques Demy, in which what superficially appears to be naive fantasy meshes with implicit critiques of the societal values underlying that fantasy.

Sentimental Something is something of a departure from the usual style of pinkcourtesyphone in that it finds a middle ground between the lowercase minimalist style of A Field for Mixing and other works Chartier has released under his given name and the syrupy atmosphere I’ve come to expect from this series. Compared with its precedents, this new album is just pure chilly bleakness– all slowburning hums and hisses, and none of the sample-heavy interludes of encrypted commentary that intensified the spell of Foley Folly Folio and Description of Problem. Moreover, the album is surprisingly short, with just one epic (“Fabric Illusion/High on Neuroticism”) and two shorter pieces (“Tears of Modernism” and “Casual Encounter/Formal Encounter”) bringing it just under forty minutes (perfect for the limited vinyl pressing, though).  Nonetheless, these stylistic shifts have perhaps made this the most easily digestible release Chartier has put out to date.

Indeed, Sentimental Something could stand as a great introduction to Chartier’s somewhat intimidating body of work. The timbres are, as always, gorgeously layered (look out for Evelina Domnitch’s theremin on “Tears of Modernism”) to create a meditative and sensual aura of dread that recalls Rapoon and Nurse With Wound, yet is far more genuinely intriguing than the countless dark ambient releases that repeatedly fall back on stock materials borrowed from pioneers such as them. And the sinuous, growling ostinato melody of “Casual Encounter/Formal Encounter” is as eerily resonant a construction as Chartier has ever crafted. If you’re deep into dark ambient sounds and extreme minimalism, you’ll hopefully already have this on your listening log for the year. I can’t recommend it enough.

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