Vancouver-based artist Ross Birdwise tugs at and tears the rigid grid that bolsters most electronic music, warping space-time in the process. His mutant rhythms are both intoxicating and mind-boggling. He has also been on a tear lately, releasing four cassettes in 2018: Drunk Formalism(s) for Orange Milk, Nine Variations for Hotham Sound, Eschatology for Collapsed Structures, and finally this luscious set of uncanny electronics for the New Motion imprint.
The music on Stumble is in a sense the connective tissue between Birdwise’s Frame Drag tape from 2013 and the more recent Drunk Formalism(s) and was conceived in the interstitial period between those releases. The gradual maturing of the compositions reveals a producer whose confidence has grown immensely, with an oeuvre that has expanded in complexity over the years. Interestingly, both the artist and label refer to these sounds as being more minimal in nature than those of his other work, but a minimal Ross Birdwise record is still fairly maximalist in execution. Oblique beats, shattered fragments of noise, dense melodic content, and jarring samples are all stirred together into a heady concoction of sound. Sure, there is more breathing room here, but the air is vaporous and thick. This is humid music.
There are twenty-four distinct compositions on offer here, at a running time that exceeds an hour. The track titles evoke places, dates, and emotions (e.g., “No-Wave Suspense Thriller, Mid-1980s”) and the music calls back to the creative core that birthed Frame Drag. It becomes evident as soon as “Bells Corners, 1981” kicks into gear that Birdwise is still messing with the structures of the club. With its variable speed, broken tape deck rhythms and suspense-filled cinematic pads, the track is instantly gripping. A salvo of randomly applied gut punches is applied again and again, until we’re left reeling like a glass-jawed boxer down for the count. It’s the attention-grabbing samples and suspenseful melodic elements that keep us from completely losing consciousness. Birdwise applies this method across most of the tape without the proceedings ever veering toward the formulaic. His limitless imagination and unwavering creativity are sustained across the entirety of Stumble, which is a mind-blowing feat if there ever was one.