Isambard Khroustaliov – Shanzhai Acid

Upon initial examination, the latest album from Isambard Khroustaliov (Sam Britton) is a sprawling, incoherent, fundamentally unnavigable mess of wavering sounds, tense discordancy and angry pulses. 

Even after a few listens, Shanzhai Acid is nigh on impenetrable, enveloping you in a sticky latticework of cross-crossing sounds and faltering non-melodies that bounce, spin and agitate uncontrollably from ear to ear. I played this on a walk through London’s rush-hour streets and somehow the chaos of the ten pieces here felt like the perfect accompaniment to the rabid, focused, bloodthirsty commitment of thousands of commuters trying to get home. 

These observations are not criticisms. Shanzhai Acid is intentionally presented thus. Britton’s latest work takes two disparate inputs as the basis for what is essentially a conceptually auditory study: the inventive Chinese manufacture of cheaply-produced electronic devices, and the cultural hyper-legacy left behind by acid house music. 

Not that you will hear any metronomic beats or aggressively-filtered 303s here. What can be detected, on ‘The Hand Of Mutt’ or ‘Quixotic Algorithmic Hubris’, is a freneticism and restlessness, expressed through algorithms, homegrown artificial intelligence and overlapping parameters. If you squint, you can feel the loved-up embrace of late-80s club music atomised into splinters of uncompromising electronics, assembled together like a badly-soldered printed circuit board. Those sounds rapidly cluster like Instagram ‘likes’ on an advert for a piece of hotly-tipped electronic gadgetry from a brand that you’ve never heard of; they then fall away as quickly after said device arrives in the mail, doesn’t work, and is promptly discarded. Like, buy, receive, replace; like, buy, receive, replace. 

This is not an album for those with a nervous disposition. It is an intense listen from the opening gestures of ‘A History Of Cybernetics’ to the sudden stop of ‘Meanwhile Cephalopods’. It reflects back the manic world we live in, our increasing device dependency and the twitchy, restless state of mind that comes with pixelated overstimulation. Another fine release from Britton which casts electronic sound as the only obvious vehicle for his anthropological observations. 

Shanzhai Acid by Isambard Khroustaliov was released March 4 2022 by Not Applicable. 

Words: Mat Smith 

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