Ben Grenrock roots for the underdog.
P.O.W.’s Best Album’s of 2017 list cataloged and collated fifty of the crème de la crème of last year’s releases. But music is nothing if not deeply subjective. One listener’s superlative is another’s snub. And so, respectfully, here’s one of the albums that’d make my personal addendum to our 2017 EOTY list. It’s the first record to not just successfully pair beat music with math rock, but to shove them both out onto the dance floor. It’s a record about interstellar worms and unappetizing floating melons and lasers. It’s Pop Rocks in the maw of Cthulu. It’s Iglooghost’s Neō Wax Bloom.
Even within the dense forest of singular and brilliant albums that is the Brainfeeder catalog, Iglooghost’s debut LP, Neō Wax Bloom, has no trouble holding its own among illustrious peers. This is chiefly because it is both singular and brilliant, a behemoth of meticulous innovation. The record may as well have its own center of gravity. Listeners not immediately crushed by the weight of its density will find themselves sucked into the chaotic decadence that rumbles and flares at its core—which you should picture as a sun-sized gumball perpetually fusing mechanized-brutality with the sublime to form a satisfyingly sour bliss; like a giant Warheads candy, but radioactive and glowing.
The record sounds like the photons of a dying star recounting their life stories in a chorus of frantic final screams before winking out. It sounds like a cotton-candy bomb exploding in a medieval torture chamber. It sounds like tales of rose-tinted cataclysm whispered into the ears of a preternaturally creative Irish person by a bug-stealing parkour enthusiast who’s popped through a portal in that Irish person’s garden to guzzle a cup of golden tea. Those first two similes are my own, but the latter is Seamus Malliagh’s (a.k.a. Iglooshost) and only the iceberg tip of the triptamine-flavored storyline behind his 2017 opus.
Malliagh has repeatedly insisted that Neō Wax Bloom is not a concept album built on a fantasy, but rather that strange beings (a blind witch who “never learned to die,” a “gelatinous worm…launched through a tiresome void of peanut rain,” etc.) did, in fact, regale him with the story of how their lives were disrupted when two giant eyeballs crashed into a “void” called Mamu—their erstwhile home—and that he then dutifully transcribed their experiences into a bizarre breed of dance music for epileptic, pastel-colored golems.
For an artist who hasn’t just been incarcerated or died, this is about as interesting a back-story as a record can get. But concept or not, its mythical narrative—true, fabricated, or legitimately hallucinated—is but a tiny shard of what makes Neō Wax Bloom such a profoundly overwhelming masterpiece.
Select any one of Neō Wax Bloom’s eleven tracks, press play, and then try and reverse engineer it in your head. Try and peel each haunting chime melody from the liquid monoliths of bass they’ve been partially dissolved in. Try and separate the chipmunk glossolalia of the vocal samples from drums with too many arms to fit in an earthling straight jacket. Try that, come back in about a year or so when you’ve succeeded, and then imagine attempting to birth those interwoven matrices of sound out of nothing but the ideas in your head. To forward engineer them.
Imagine deciding repetition is so boring that every segment of your punishingly complex music needs to be uniquely its own. Imagine programming a four minute and nineteen second track that clocks in at 220bpm without utilizing a single loop; that’s roughly nine-hundred and ninety individual beats, each its own ponderous tower of uniquely hewn soundwaves. Imagine pouring three months into a song so involved and multifaceted that it’s too much for your DAW to even process as playback. Imagine punching it into Reason anyway.
If you picture all of that, and if your imagination runs at one-tenth the RPMs of Malliagh’s, then maybe you can begin to sense the weight of the crystalline albatross that perpetually twitched around his neck as he composed and recorded Neō Wax Bloom. The process nearly shattered him. “Your mental limitations can take you by surprise,” he told Pop Matters in October. “I think I was arrogant enough to think I was invincible and could wing it through pushing myself over my limits. I ended up…fucking up my health by the end of the record.”
In an era where making music seems to get ever-easier, making Neō Wax Bloom was a punishingly difficult endeavor. The pressures Malliagh put on himself during the process forced him even deeper into the mythos of his creation. He seems to always be wearing a cap emblazoned with the eyeballs that allegedly crashed in Mamu. He often dons a pullover that shares the same primary colors scheme with the graphical design he created for Neō Wax Bloom. The project, the minutia, the Mamu, appear to have seeped into him.
And he’s let something seep back into the record in return. Because all of this, the high-degree of difficulty, the interdimensional worms, Malliagh’s Dickensian work schedule, all of it is nothing more than the recipe for a stupefying technical album of pretentious faff; which sounds almost exactly like the stereotypical description of one of its main and misunderstood influences.
Though most critical responses to the album mention the eclectic spectrum of genres it draws on—footwork, juke, PC Music, Japanese folk, helium-addicted grime—they seem to leave out what is possibly the most startling and most frank of Malliagh’s contributing factors. Neō Wax Bloom borrows many of its harmonic flourishes, its maximalist ambition, and even a sample or two from math rock.
Maybe critics are worried that association with a genre many see as the never ending noodling of nerds might doom the record to eternal scoffing. But there is no better sonic medium to depict Mamu’s essence than the glittery fits of some well executed math rock, and Iglooghost knows what makes and breaks good math rock. The dexterity and melodic gymnastics must be rooted in human feeling. The gears that shift between time-signatures must be grounded in guts.
What’s so special about Neō Wax Bloom is that it inflects its virtuosic silliness with some powerful and ineffable emotion, wrung from Malliagh at his most raw. It’s littered with moving moments that become doubly moving when you realize you’ve just been prompted to an emotional response by a distorted voice groaning an unintelligible syllable. Often occurring through the thoughtful selection of melodic motifs, the sentimentality manifests even more readily via Malliagh’s expert curation of his chaos into a dynamic ebb and flow.
Though for most of Neo Wax Bloom he keeps the pedal flat on the floor, hurtling us through the shrines of an otherworldly animism at somewhere between hyper- and ludicious-speeds, Iglooghost knows precisely when to take his foot off the gas. For all its quantum mechanical wizardry, the record breathes—albeit through some sort of cyberpunk iron lung crusted with caramelized fairy gore.
“White Gum” flails like a pair of ballerinas having at each other from inside malfunctioning Gundam suits before effortlessly giving way to a Zen-like meditation. This subdued vibe floats on to permeate the fabric of follow up “Purity Shards.” Then, by subsequent “Zen Champ,” we’re somehow back at a breakneck without having ever felt acceleration’s crush. There’s a weird serenity in all the exertion, somewhere between a runner’s high and an assassin’s calm. It keeps an otherwise alien technology tethered to something familiar enough to access it.
Neō Wax Bloom might not be the most easy-to-listened-to record released last year, but it is inarguably one of the most original, warping both technical and thematic boundaries at a furious pace. It’s a radioactive spider bite to the flesh of the global beat scene, shrouded in childlike lore and wonder. Jettisoning this mad farrago into 2017 secured Iglooghost a place of honor in the pantheons of multiple genres. As 2018 unfolds, it’ll be exciting to see what unheard of mutations both Iglooghost and the producers he influences spawn in Neō Wax Bloom’s wake.