|Fossil Aerosol Mining Project
LP HMS 043
The last time I covered this enigmatic Midwestern ensemble, I was a bit frustrated by the limitations of their constrained palette, but I have since warmed to them quite a bit due to their endearingly obsessive commitment to their aesthetic. Fossil Aerosol Mining Project is less like a band than like the extremely persistent ghost of a blackly funny anthropologist hell-bent on dredging up everything our culture would like to forget. That is truly a niche that needed to be filled and August 53rd fills it beautifully. Cryptically billed as a prequel to The Day 1982 Contaminated 1971, this latest album seems to revisit the same source material of decaying film reels liberated from an abandoned drive-in, yet instead focuses upon the ones in a less conspicuously advanced state of ruin. As such, this album is every bit as haunted, murky, and mysterious as its predecessor, but not quite as eviscerated of all human warmth.
It is nearly impossible to discuss Fossil Aerosol Mining Project without mentioning George Romero, as the influence of 1978's Dawn of the Dead seems like a crucial foundational element to the band's vision. While they have explicitly devoted work to that film (and zombies in general) in the past, FAMP's recent outings have transcended those origins to blossom into something quite sophisticated and complex. In the world of August 53rd, it seems like the United States did not survive that particular zombie apocalypse. This feels like a vision of what would remain if Americans had been conclusively erased from the planet in the late '70s: miles and miles of rusted cars, empty malls, desolate gas stations, and ruined Burger Kings. While humanity itself is conspicuously absent, the album periodically comes alive with flickering ghosts of its former presence, such as the scratchy and wobbly looping country music of "The Failed Resurrection of Easy Listening." That piece is easily one of the more strikingly evocative ones on the album, as I feel like I just stumbled upon the burned-out husk of a car that still somehow had a working radio…or like I am strolling through a dust-covered and skeleton-strewn mall while being serenaded by a deeply weary (yet miraculously still functioning) Muzak system. Muzak amusingly returns again in the following "V-Broadcast (Closed Circuit) 1986," resembling an upbeat K-Mart commercial suddenly springing to life on a dead television.
Aside from the occasional welcome oases of kitsch, the music of August 53rd mostly takes the shape of murky, drone-centric collages of distressed tape and/or film loops. In less skilled hands, an album like this would probably blunder into bombastic dark ambient atmospheres, but this album is instead like stepping into a dense, billowing, and hallucinatory fog of weird. The opening "July Melody #1," for example, is built on an eerily see-sawing low whistle disrupted by washes of static and crackling voices that sound like fragmented news reports. While some of the individual textures and details are quite wonderful, the real beauty lies in the utterly disorienting and uneasily ambiguous mood: it feels like a glimpse of an eerily lonely factory in the future that is devoid of human life, yet swirling with vaporous spirits. Elsewhere, on "The Failed Resurrection of Easy Listening," the woozy, stuttering pedal steel guitars are increasingly disrupted by gnarled, inhuman howls and seismic shudders that sound like a radio broadcast straight from hell with no concern for earthly volume or frequency thresholds. Like the best horror movies, the Fossil cabal season their discrete sound worlds with just enough flickers of unknown terror to keep me in a permanent state of tense unease. It can work the other way as well, however, as the submerged and ominous thrum of "Retail Retrospect" unexpectedly gives way to an interlude of breezy big band jazz drifting out from a simmering miasma of gurgle and hiss. The album highlight is probably "Aestas Anatis 2016" though, which feels like a wobbly, seasick reverie of blurred guitars periodically interrupted by a strange jabbering voice. If Kevin Shields got tagged to soundtrack a darkly lysergic re-envisioning of Fraggle Rock directed by David Lynch, the result would probably not be far off from whatever the hell seems to be happening in "Aestas Anatis."
Lamentably, I have not delved deeply enough into Fossil's rich back catalog to have an opinion about how this stacks up against the rest of their oeuvre. They certainly have released other excellent albums (Red Fades First springs to mind) and this one is yet another. While I am categorically enthralled and eternally intrigued by their overarching concept and celebration of time-ravaged documents from the past, the balance between "art" and "music" is especially favorable on August 53rd, as enough melody, humor, and warmth breaks through the phantasmagoric murk to make it seem like there is a complex and coherent album underneath that keeps fleetingly breaking through an impenetrable fog. I was tempted to try to write something eloquent about post-industrial scavengers plumbing our collective unconscious and finding beauty in the ruins, but Fossil Aerosol Mining Project actually do something far weirder and compellingly ambiguous: they have built a desolately eerie and dystopian new world from the abandoned and long-forgotten detritus that our own world has left in its wake. Sometimes ruins were once beautiful buildings, making them a far too easy and obvious target. August 53rd is something quite different altogether: a haunted city built entirely from garbage. -- Anthony D'Amico