The last in the trilogy of EPs produced by a single member of Old Apparatus, Harem is named after its creator, which means either the London collective is still being cryptic about their identities or one of them is a sphere of women in a polygynous household. Either way, this latest collection of their trademark decayed electronica carries forward the atmosphere established by Realise and Alfur, albeit to a stranger and less lively place. The beats on Harem have been scaled down to a throb, and while the sense of shadowy dread is stronger than ever, it makes for a mixed finale to the trilogy—one that swings between a damp squib and a total fulfillment of their apocalyptic vision.
Harem‘s artwork—corpses at the bottom of a mountain, a black eclipse in the sky—telegraphs the EP’s objectives, and should deter anyone expecting more of the group’s dubstep-like material. There’s a post-rock feel to these four tracks, movements seguing into one another like a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album. “Sunday Service” begins with gasps and a piano, a wall of thudding white noise growing louder before being softened by sighs care of vocalist Paperdoll House. The focus here is on the peripherals, with recorded rainfall in the background gradually getting heavier, beating down like Inuit drums.
Harem clearly felt that Alfur and Realise weren’t atmospheric enough, and was determined to keep his EP as eerie as possible without trying the listener’s patience. Only on the second track, “Mernom,” does a percussive element appear in the form of winding clockwork, complementing the brooding synths which recall the Terminator 2 theme. The vocals here are rougher, more crazed, the drums sucking and clicking as they eventually peak.
On side two, Harem grows more confident with the beats. The EP leans back toward the group’s label debut, Derren, where each member was given equal input and established their grizzled electronica sound. “Dourado” opens with sweeping white noise, synths flickering before a bouncing beat drops. Imagine the drum intro to Underworld’s Olympic opening ceremony music being played on scaffold poles, with no keyboards and a single man chanting in place of the amassed nurses. It’s mysterious, animated, and alluring, with gloomy production again turned up to 11 to maintain Harem‘s end-of-days aura. The concluding “Octafish” delivers a long-awaited clear melody, but one played on fuzzy pads, like Brian Eno music heard underwater. Coming after three cuts of bleak industrial distortion, it feels like punchline, a shaft of holy light before the church gets demolished. A suitably strange final note for this trio of dark releases, but one which underlines how Harem isn’t quite as unique as its two preceding EPs.