Last year, Alap Momin took CVLT Nation on a journey through the new heavy. What we learned was that heaviness, for Momin, is not simply about volume. It’s not about finding the next loudest thing. The new heavy is about liminal moments – standing on sonic thresholds facing out onto new sonorous possibilities and intensities. For a voracious listener like Momin, the new heavy becomes a narrative for his life; Momin talked us through his early punk years, his fascination with heavy metal, his rock and hip hop days, shifts into jazz, noise and experimental territories, all the way to his immersion in the Berlin sound.
His search for the new heavy also goes someway to explaining Momin’s first solo release since parting ways with dälek in 2009. As he said, dälek were masters of a certain type of heaviness, louder-than-the-Melvins type of heaviness. Pioneers of merging noise with hop hop, dälek mastered the volume side of heavy. After 15 years of recording and relentless touring, Momin was left asking, ‘what’s next?’ The years after were research-like. Momin exposed himself to all kinds of new sounds in his search for the next phase of heavy. This is how we should listen his latest album, Round One, released under the name BKGD Audio. It’s the first glimpse we have into Momin’s new sonorous world.
Round One is the culmination of 7 years of experimentation, refinement and exploration. Part of this, Momin explains, was about getting over weaknesses and hang-ups from the past. Having collaborated for most of his life, a solo project was a way of making himself vulnerable, of having no one there to cover his ass when he drops ‘weak shit.’ But it was also a chance to break out of the ‘dude’ circles he found himself in. Fascinated by the vibrancy of the New York vogue scene, by the heavy and raw sounds of the transgender/gay hip hop parties and increasingly inspired by women’s, rather than dude’s, listening, Momin became obsessed with making alternate grooves for more diverse communities.
The result of this is an album deeply hypnotic and groovy but still retaining the grit and abstractness that has become his trademark. Momin’s ability to weave primordial bass grooves into chaotic noise frameworks still resonates here but there is a clever refinement toward the groove, a step toward the vibrant underground club scenes that inspired him. Heavy percussive rhythms, synth loops and bass lines drive the album with abstract noise, sonic washes and eerie vocal samples haunting the background and intruding at crucial moments.
The opening track, “Tell Me I’m a Problem” captures this infectious tension from the get-go. A reverberating drum beat builds to meet atmospheric samples before a warped vocal sound takes over and drives the track. Momin’s interest in the voice as conduit for sound and texture rather than words is audible here. This, in fact, becomes one of the most engaging and distinct features of Round One. Surreal, dream-like vocals punctuate the record throughout adding an extra dimension to its sonic wash. Track three, “No Fear,” and track seven, “Come on and Take Me,” are two great examples of this where a distinctly vocal sound dissolves into a haze of stoned rhythms.
But there’s also playfulness felt in the haze. Although gritty in its own way, BKGD Audio is not as earnest as dälek. The hooks are charged with a volatile feverish energy. Momin even drops the vocal from Snap’s “I’ve Got the Power” on his track “I Got the Screw”! But the real oddity on the record is “Love Was All You Needed.” The way Momin sculpts emotion from such surreal textures is both disarming and infectious. I never thought club music could be so beautiful until I heard this track.
For Momin, Round One is a formative step to the new heavy – his first installment of Neanderthal rhythms for the clubs. But it doesn’t feel formative which would suggest there’s still work to be done. Round One is expertly executed and complete. For fans of dälek, and Momin’s soundscapes in particular, there’s an exciting evolution to be heard here. Yet what’s more exciting is the fact his past only haunts the record; Momin hypnotises his listeners to follow him into uncharted waters. The adventurous will surely swim, while the dudes will no doubt drown.