album review: nobodys home

russian tsarlag – nobodys home

carlos gonzales, or RT as i like to call this artist, is not for everybody.

i’m not sure what other people hear or don’t hear in them, but i sense that this music must seem either overcluttered or overly simple to people, based on the types of dismissals i’ve heard.

‘anyone could make this music. i could make this music,’ someone once commented to me, remarking (i think) on the old well-popularized classic community death tube.

but you wouldn’t! i blurted out.

nobodys home is a slight departure from RT’s most recent ventures–you could say he is returning to a brisker, more poppy song structure with some punk sprinkles, and flinging out more notably disoriented, paranoid vocals. as far as i know this sound (except for the vocal approach which has changed many times) has as much as a 20 year history in his hands, dating back to long before i was old enough to excavate any of these ghost artifacts from the bottomless crystal quarry of media. much of this album ends up sounding perversely upbeat, lively even, especially in comparison with the last couple releases (the whispery, clearer-sounding and therefore more strangely sad haggard scrawl and trusted family sporeboth released 2021).

to date, i find that i like all RT’s works (of music, film, comics, performance) instantaneously, even though some of it is nauseating, scary, distressing, or fills you with a chemical coldness that can’t be shaken off, or even seems to mirror or induce the brainwaves of deep disorienting timeless boredom–coldest sensation of all.

still, the detuned dischordant pop songs are particularly special to me. impossibly catchy for what they are, perfectly balanced bundles of frictional components and flavors, the songs float like hypnogogic images and sounds. it’s profoundly pleasurable to be able to enjoy them again and again and go deeper into the liminal dream’s maze of environments.

all in all i don’t know what it’d be like for a listener who doesn’t already love this distinct sound. for me this album digs up the private core of pop. the radioactive ice cold ambiguity underneath every pop song on earth, their exposed hidden skeletal structures. for others the invitation might just glide off your mind.

also, there’s a hilarious streak running through his work and it surfaces notably in this album. i’m talking about a type of undeniable comedy that never gets reduced even out of the most melancholy ballads or what in different hands would be called ‘ambient’. it’s a kind of hyperbole or a roundabout reflection of obnoxiousness–some of us have a major sweet tooth for it. that bitter/sugar taste was what originally hooked us and it’s still present as a main ingredient–but over the years it’s turned into something that has to be called “beautiful” too–in the most counterintuitive way and against every intuition, twisted out of so many sensory inversions that it ultimately presents as obvious.

i think nobodys home is sure to be an instant classic, even to stand out among everything else pouring forth from RT’s prolific wellspring. this album is somewhere between a (poison) vapor and a (carcinogenic) crystal. it’s particularly nice on cassette if you can get it because the layers of harmonic fuzz really enhance the spatial suggestions in many of the tracks.

the river, my favorite track so far, does this thing where it’s unclear if the song is climaxing or rolling downward into a freefall. the spatial distortion is classic in RT’s music–environmental distortion, solids into liquid, color into gas, textural patterns into melody–a sense of everything warping even while carrying you along rhythmically in a hypothetically very simple (and RT signature) two-tone pop song.

i think all RT’s work is very spatial; nobodys home takes you into claustrophobically cacophanous and deeply depressing interior places (as in the opening track in this hell as well as the album’s title track) but also releases you periodically into the outdoors. these exposures end up being psychologically affecting and surprisingly raw. the white sky burns you, the leafless trees’ silouhettes feel like sharp razors. it’s all there: being out in the world in some horrible empty winter where “tears of pain and joy coincide”.

this music is enough to make you hate high tech production. computer-grade clarity starts to sound like just a totalitarian death knell of all dreams.