Spread informally across underground networks, learned by hearing and watching one’s influences in action, possessed of as many unique voices as artists – the experimental electronic and noise/drone movements constitute contemporary incarnations of “folk” music, with knobs, oscillators, and patch cables in the place of acoustic guitars and harmonicas. As these movements flourish and overlap, the music that Nelson Bean makes as Black Hat emerges as a bold addition to the expanding center of the Venn Diagram. As much as Bean participates in these scenes, performing regularly around his Seattle home and touring the west coast in the Summer of 2013, electronic music began for him as a family affair. Growing up in Oakland, CA, the 24-year-old producer received his first analog drum machines and synths from his father, a musician-turned-doctor. Supportive friends and family, the right gear, fierce ambition, and the inspiration gleaned from live shows and the boundless expanses of the internet: on paper, these seem like a recipe for a striking project. But Nelson Bean’s music exceeds the sum of the parts that brought it to life, carving out complex new permutations of composition and live performance that span the wide spectrum of the contemporary electronic underground.
Thought of Two, Bean’s first full-length LP, arrives in the wake of his acclaimed Covalence cassette (Field Hymns, 2013), extending the compressed, hypnotic styles of that release into three mammoth new compositions teeming with abstracted rhythms and alien tones. Composed with an intricate system of digital processes and synth hardware, the sessions captured here on record represent the culmination of the tonal explorations and structural decisions that Bean continues to fine-tune in his improvisation-infused live performances.
On a measure-by-measure basis, Thought of Two confounds listeners’ expectations of resolution and recursion. Its sophisticated rhythmic grids and detailed lead voices congeal and conflict in unpredictable fashion, propelling each track through diverse atmospheres and textures. “Imaginary Friends” begins with a brooding death howl that gives way to a mind-warping kick drum pattern, all before the machine-drum beatdown shatters and rebuilds the session from the ground up. “Portrait in Fluorescent Light” layers washed-out drones and patient effect manipulations into a narcotic drift that stretches time well beyond the track’s eight minute running time. The side-long “Memory Triptych” weaves a yearning synth motif through three distinct emotional spaces: a burgeoning introduction; the slow burn of the middle passage, led by a loping bassline and a muffled drum pattern into a matrix of interlocking pulses; the finale, pitting angelic synth quavers against the rumble of one last recurring bass phrase. Bean imbues his compositions with the grotesque cinematic sensibilities and rhythmic experimentation of Coil, the ghost-in-the-machine humanity of Laurie Spiegel’s computer-based synthesizer work, and the dark energies and urges of Miles Davis’s late-period psych-fusion ensembles – to single out just a few touchstones. Above all, Thought of Two showcases a mind eager to expand the vocabulary of today’s conflating strains of electronic music, presenting audacious new ideas with a confidence that demands playback at maximum volume.