Mystery surrounds the artist known as Chiang Valley Liberators, whose new album - And Then Everything Changed - is an experimental electronic affair encompassing the influences of noise, ambient, drone, and industrial music. There is little information about the person or people behind the project, the intentions of the work, or even about which part of the world it originates from. I listened with an open mind, not knowing what to expect and piecing together my impressions of this album.
The first track - “Lightning Stations” - runs at over 10 minutes and is centred around a compellingly dark drone. As mysterious as the origins of the project itself, this piece seems to immediately drop us on some unknown and bleak planet, or a desolate dystopian future. The tone and intensity of the deep and otherworldly soundscape subtly varies, and samples of various recognisable sounds gradually emerge in a series which includes old-fashioned army fanfares and talking dolls. It is captivating, evocative and filmic.
“Addiction”, the second track, again features a droning backdrop, but we are now in post-industrial territory and there is heavy dub influence in the electronic drums and effects. The leaden, grinding, and purposeful beat is augmented by samples of shouting men. The use of the stereo field is impressive, with futuristic beams of glassy synth noise and dub reverbs bouncing all over the place but never distracting from the drive of the sinister underlying beat. Again, the single-note drone is the only harmonic or melodic feature here, but the texture, dynamics and rhythmic emphasis are constantly moving so as to hold our attention.
“SAND 7” has a more delicate, somewhat ethereal, touch and sounds like a tropical rainstorm on another planet heard from the shelter of a strange cave. The manipulation of noise and samples to create atmosphere is very impressive and highly effective.
“Summer in the Dark” features a steady four-to-the-floor kick drum beat but, again, everything is infused with an alien quality. Aggressive stamping sounds processed with a queasy reverb contrast with delicate ambient synth melodies. Yet again, a deep, enchanting and unrelenting drone flows underneath the whole affair. The calm and tranquil sounds are mixed and processed to feel close, while the tense and abrasive ones sound further away - a technique which makes this piece feel like a safe haven amidst chaos and destruction.
The album closes with “Devoted To You”. At nearly 15 minutes, this piece completes the construction of an album which opens and closes with its two epic-length pieces. As with the first track, percussion and strong rhythm is largely eschewed in favour of a soundscape approach. Again there are some samples of speech (I could make out “they gave me an electric shock and it destroyed my memory” amongst the largely unintelligible words). However, this track avoids the bleakness and tension of previous ones. It features a repeated rising two-chord synth pad pattern which seems to be designed to relax and soothe like a lulling dream. Although this pattern continues for the full duration, the piece maintains interest due to subtle and clever variations. This soft and comforting piece is a somewhat unexpected but very welcome way to close the record.
On a cerebral level, I suspect that some political or historical themes or at least cultural allusions of this album might have passed me by. Nevertheless, the emotional experience is highly engaging and the technical construction is expertly executed. If you enjoy dark and rich synth textures and if you like albums which take your mind somewhere else and need to be appreciated as a whole then you may well greatly appreciate And Then Everything Changed by Chiang Valley Liberators.
And Then Everything Changed is available now for download and streaming and will be released on vinyl on 27th August 2020 on Corrosive Growth Industries.