(Phantom Limb)


References to soundworlds, soundscapes and sonic spaces are vastly overused in music writing; most of the time such terms can be read as florid longhand for “it sounds like this” or “reverb”. So at the risk of being hoisted with my own petard (I hate it when that happens): this new album by Osaka-based experimental producer 99LETTERS is one of the most effective, cohesive works of sonic world-building you’re likely to have heard all year.

There’s a lot going on here. Zigoku is bookended by two of its heaviest moments, the scorched-earth techno of opener ‘Fue’ and the abattoir echoes of ‘Ousyou’; in between, there’s shapeshifting electronica (‘Kamaitachi’), eye-darting paranoia (‘Souzou’), moments of genuinely affecting, plaintive beauty (‘Nakimushinatori’) and much more. Its lows and highs complement each other perfectly, the former dominated by a sense of anxious almost-tranquility, quivering prey staying as still as possible, the latter entirely dominant, apex expressions of industrial power. All this adds up to a record of remarkable internal coherence and organic movement, a constant dialogue of glinting electronics and acoustic verdance. 99LETTERS has created an entire world here, to explore at your leisure or peril.