J.G. Thirlwell & Simon Steensland – Oscillospira

4 out of 5

Label: Ipecac

Produced by: J.G. Thirlwell, Simon Steensland

What an ideal combination. Where Simon Steensland slow-burn orchestral movements lack some punch, J.G. Thirlwell brings a backbone; where J.G.’s tendencies toward anarchic pop can overwhelm, he’s grounded by Steensland’s symphonic structure.

I can’t parse enough of the science to figure out what Oscillospira may be referencing, but the term – perhaps a mash-up of the bacteria and the Oscillopsia condition – and the use of lots of religious imagery in this album’s song titles, not to mention its dramatic tone may give us a sense of what’s up: evil is afoot in the church.

Even without such clues to guide us, Thirlwell / Steensland favor a grandiose theme throughout that floats from awe-inspiring to dread-inducing; the former – especially when performed with the wind and string instrumentation – might not be out of place as backing to some holy chorus. Until, of course, the latter kicks in and then guitars and drums start pummeling our asses with terror.

All eight compositions on the disc flow together, and share that core sound, shifting in tone from soothing to frantic intra-song and across the album, touching on some of Thirlwell’s circus-y playfulness, but shot through with Steensland’s drama; it is, again, a killer combo, engrossing the entire way. Past the midpoint, the journey becomes nightmarish, with atmospherics and choruses on Mare and Crystal Night; the session closes out more guitar and drums focused on the breathless 9+ minute jaunt of Redbug.

As often happens on a lot of Ipecac releases, there’s an electronic edge to this that occasionally butts against its organic elements, very occasionally making some transitions feel a bit too precise. It would’ve been interesting had this been captured as more of a live, loose performance, but it’s a wonderfully affecting experience as-is.