Essentially the project of multi-instrumentalist and producer Demian Castellanos, The Oscillation was formed in London in 2006 with the release of the debut seven-inch and Rough Trade Records ‘single of the week’; New Way To Feel on Bee And Smoke records. Drawing inspiration from The Cure, Loop, Can, The Durutti Column, PIL, Spacemen 3, Popol Vuh and Chrome, they’ve since gone on to release three critically acclaimed studio albums; Out Of Phase (2007), Veils (2011) and From Tomorrow (2013). Over the last few years The Oscillation have also appeared on several highly rated compilation albums and provided remixes for the likes of Simian Mobile Disco, Telepathe, Nick Nicely and most recently the Fat White Family.
The new long player Monographic sees the multi-talented Castellanos, who sings, play bass, guitars and synths on the album, joined by Valentina Magaletti on drums in what is without doubt the band’s most accomplished and outstanding set of songs to date.
A favourite album of mine is one that you may not have heard of, Stranglers bassist JJ Burnel’s 1979 solo project ‘Euroman Cometh’. I originally bought it way back when because I was a big fan of the band and wanted to own everything that Burnel and the other band members put out. At the time I remember being somewhat non-plussed by that album. It was, of course, bass heavy but also political and other worldly; and as a teenager at the time I just didn’t appreciate it. In the intervening years, however, I have come to appreciate that album more and more for its genre defying avant garde approach; it was an album out of time…and has remained somewhat ignored and obscure. Which is why I was very pleasantly surprised to see it turn up on one of The Oscillation’s Demian Castellanos’s excellent mixes recently. I thought no more about it at the time, but as soon as I heard his new album, ‘Monographic’, I thought that here was an album that has come as close to Burnel’s offering as I have heard: and this makes me very happy. There is something about the spirit of ‘Monographic’ that has that same mixture of experimentation, attitude and instrumentation that makes it irresistible for me.
The Oscillation is effectively Castellanos’s project, and he as been putting out music under the name since around 2006. His influences are so wide that you never quite know what you are going to get, which can be something of a two-edged sword when listening to a new album for the first time since is raises the question as to whether the listener is going to be on the same page as the musician. From the first bars of ‘Monographic’, I was convinced I was as it gets underway with the title track with its cold detached beat driving the music which is often dense and chaotic, occasionally becoming resolved into something more simple before heading back into the sonic haze. This is a track that tells me that I’m going to be in for a hell of a ride with this album, but what a ride it is going to be.
‘Take Me To The Moon’ has a post-punk era Stranglers feeling to it, reminding me of ‘Five Minutes’ b-side ‘Rok It To The Moon’, this is another heavy and dense track that contains more ideas in it than most people fit into a box set. This track explains to me why I like The Oscillation so much. Most of the sounds and ideas here are relatively light and basic, yet put them together and you have something far more complex and interesting.
After such a frenetic start ‘Let It Be The End’ takes it down a few notches beginning with a simple plaintiff lyric. This is a much softer and warmer track and for me points to how Castellanos is developing as a songwriter. There is patience and maturity here which adds greater depth to the number and gives the album greater perspective.
‘Truth in Reverse’ is a monumental spacey psych track which pounds its way into your consciousness, snagging itself on your synapses as it goes. The relentless drum beat of ‘Monographic’ is back, but where as that was cold and precise, this is hard and fuzzy. Around it Castellanos weaves a melange of heavily treated guitar, droning vocal and siren synths. It is a track that sounds as if it is leading into the jaws of the apocalypse, and with the next track ‘Another Attack’…we may just have got there. This is perhaps the most immediate on the album, a really powerful and high-paced attack on the senses which leaves you breathless as there is just so much going on in there.
As ‘Another Attack’ segues into ‘Lonely People’ you feel some relief that the bombardment is subsiding, and this helps heighten the feelings of absence and isolation that pervade this track. While it is less dense than those that preceded it, it is only for a few moments towards the end of its nearly nine minutes can it be described as sparse; and it still contributes to the overall feeling of claustrophobia that this album has thus far brought.
Closing the regular set is ‘Alignment Zone’ (the CD has three bonus tracks on it, see below), and is a much more meditative piece that enables the listener to process what has gone before. The darkness is certainly still there, but added to it is a dystopian brooding that replaces the density and intensity of the rest of the album, perhaps encouraging us to take time out from the all-pervading noise of life and find time to reflect…is this what the alignment zone is I wonder? If so it certainly had the desired effect for me as I found myself, especially with the extended version, musing on the fullness of existence and the need for space and time to think.
This is The Oscillation’s most complete album yet. It is dense and complex, and, for me, is quite unique in its sound and approach. Yet it somehow continues the theme of the key albums I’ve reviewed this year so far (Henge, Cavalier Song and Pop. 1280) of being dark, dystopian, and innovative; difficult and yet very rewarding through close listening. We live in strange and perplexing times that require creative and challenging artists to act as ciphers for us…I never expected one of those codes to be channelling ‘Euroman Cometh’ though.
The Oscillation is a project of UK-based multi-instrumentalist Demian Castellanos, who we first encountered on the excellent Kyvu Tapes, courtesy of our friends at the Cardinal Fuzz label. Monographic, released in March, is a psych tour de force that packs a lot in while never losing its focus or continuity as a complete album.
From the off, the phaser set to stun effects introducing the opener/title track’s Clinic/Brechtian oompah drone grabs you by the scruff and leads you thro’ fields of stars on a sci-fi psych trip to the next whiskey bar at the edge of the universe. As mentioned, there’s lots going on here, with the album’s seven tracks (the CD also contains two, bonus mixes) embracing elements of psych, epic Spacemen 3 drone haze (“Lonely People”), Hawkwind-style space rock (“Another Attack”), Scary Monsters style guitar wailing (“Take Us to the Moon”), early industrial, dub, dream pop (“Let It Be the End”), and chugging glam pomp (“Truth In Reverse”).
It takes work to bring all of these musical pieces together, and here they are brilliantly curated by Castellanos, whose sneering, breathy vocals recall Mark E. Smith, Robert del Naja, even Ian Brown in parts. He plays all instruments on the record, save the drums, which are provided by live band member Valentina Magalietti. Take the trip – it’s all about the journey.
Highlights include: “Truth In Reverse”, “Let It be the End”, “Monographic”, “Lonely People”.
Monographic is out now as a joint release of UK-based All Time Low and French label, Hands In the Dark. The album, and much else both Oscillation and Castellanos-related, is also available on The Oscillation’s bandcamp site. You can find out more on fbook and the band’s site, where you can also find their summer touring schedule.
Demian Castellanos has been a bit of a tease of late – 2015 releases ‘KYVU’ and ‘Beyond The Mirror’ were drawn from the vaults while we eagerly awaited the new material. That wait is over.
‘Monographic’ (in a fittingly monochrome cover with linear design) does not disappoint although it does represent an incremental departure from the deliciously dank and cloying aesthetic of previous Oscillation releases. That hardly means that it is lacking in suspense or edginess but there is a more upbeat and dare one say commercially friendly feel to this than on previous releases. Castellanos’ deadpan vocal is something like a fusion between Syd Barrett and Genesis P Orridge voicing Tales Of The Unexpected and this lends itself pretty well to the material. The lead-off title track is a jaunty chug evoking early Hawkwind having a bit of a knees up while “Take Us To The Moon” is, if not quite danceable, is liable to get the faithful twitching a bit down in mosh central and “Truth In Reverse” is a lysergic psycho-drone deconstruction of “Spirit In The Sky”, and way-less annoying. In between these two is “Let It Be The End”, a narcotic slowie of the sort Primal Scream used to throw in to good effect to break up the maelstrom. “Another Attack” meanwhile is an exciting and up-tempo, almost-garage psych construct and easily the most outstanding track thus far. Now THAT will get them moving.
However, what elevates Monographic from a good album to the truly impressive are the final two cuts (at least on the original CD version). The shimmering drone of “Lonely People” represents a return to the dark basement sound of earlier Oscillation and even chucks in a gloomy “anthemic” chorus that you can sing along to, assuming you could muster the energy to do so. It’s on “Alignment Zone (Extended)” that it all comes together though. A lengthy slab of uber-psych, a deep space exploration co-scripted by drummer Valentia Magaletti, it’s quite possibly the best thing Castellanos has put his name to. In fact the whole album could well be Oscillation’s strongest release to date.
(Note: The CD version comes with three extra tracks, all drones, all good. The vinyl format offers different permeations of additional material)