Keith Fullerton Whitman hit the (under)ground running in the late 1990s, releasing a disparate batch of singles, remixes, and compilation appearances on the heels of his Oiseaux 96-98 debut as Hrvatski. With a decade of idiom hopping in outré-rock ensembles, Berklee electronic music labs and long-distance RKK label partnerships already behind him, Whitman's newly minted top-10 list fodder (records like Oiseaux and Swarm & Dither, celebrated for their own internal brand of stylistic impatience) were really only tips of an iceberg – one capable of shredding the hull of portentious critical methodologies and drum ‘n’ bass contextualizations alike. Like another New England-dwelling Whitman, the poet who strove “to be absolv’d from previous ties and conventions,” Keith Fullerton Whitman holds fast to the open road. His latest release, Antithesis, is a limited-edition, vinyl-only EP of non-processed “ensemble works” – six- and seven-minute instrumental pieces that don’t fit with his forthcoming Multiples record or his glitch/laptop past. They’re hunks from the aforementioned iceberg, recorded between 1994-2002 and chiseled free for 2004 – discrepant variants that hint at Whitman's multitudes.
"Twin Guitar Rhodes Viola Drone (for Lamonte Young)" is the first track on Antithesis and the easiest to pinpoint chronologically. Recorded in 1994, in the dimming drone-pop afterglow of Loveless, it pits a slowly unfurling strand of guitar melody against refracting viola tones (far less pronounced or scraping than the homage to Young might suggest). The effect is like Eno's Apollo beamed through a tight mesh of shoegaze distortion, and as the drones waft front-to-back they suggest a chorus of ghostly human voices before dissolving into recognizable instrumental tones; a nifty slight-of-hand. As if in response, "Obelisk (For Kurt Schwitters)" establishes the breadth of range that Whitman is seeking. Sinister tones erupt and seep away as percussive elements rattle and clank without warning. Where the previous track felt like a tightly composed symphony in unbounded space, "Obelisk" feels like a random series of utterances tightly contained by wet rock walls. Tribal drums reverberate, guitar distortion howls and an uneasy balance is finally realized.
"Rhodes Viola Multiple" is Antithesis's most interesting piece. A Rhodes phrase is repeatedly played and altered, overlapping and reversing in complicated design so that the mottled sounds begin to bleed together with the calming effect of a Rothko painting. The phrases are introduced quickly, then replaced without time to distinguish themselves, like some prelude to a Sonic Youth song that never begins. The EP concludes with "Schnee," which hews more closely to rock tropes than any of the previous three tracks. Acoustic guitar and pounding toms rotate in Kraut-rock cycles while electric guitar lines slice linearly through the haze. It’s not enough of a shift from what bands like Ash Ra Tempel and Parson Sound were perfecting in the 1970s to really impress, but in the context of Antithesis it’s an intriguing movement into a more organic and rhythm-anchored form.
Antithesis is impressive more for its breadth of approach than the depth of any one piece. For obvious reasons it doesn’t hold together as a unified album, but the diversity of set-ups and approaches encourage meditation on the many variables present.By Nathan Hogan