In theory, Tyondai Braxton’s HIVE1 should be a solid release: or, at the very least, a stimulating one. But though there’s theoretically no difference between theory and practice, in practice there is, and the experience of listening to the album’s forty something minutes is a gruelling one. Repetition is the name of the game here, but rather than taking the release further forward – pointing it outwards, even – Braxton’s reliance on pushing the same grooves over and over and over again draws things inward, towards a point of absolute mundanity.
Braxton will be known to some as the one time guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist of Battles, an excellent, jagged art-punk band that made a name for themselves by creating music that was at once intellectual and studied, and yet totally frenetic and energised. On HIVE1, Braxton abandons the energy, and embraces the cerebral, resulting in what the generous might describe as a ‘soundscape.’
There is no drive to a single one of HIVE1’s eight tracks, which in and of itself might not be a criticism, but there’s no subtlety or gravity to the thing either. Opener Gracka lacks fire or grit, but it lacks mood too. It sounds aimless, and though a certain artful chaos was clearly Braxton’s intention, not a single note or rhythm registers.
Tracks like the lengthy Scout1 or Amlochley lose their way even before a minute of their running time has elapsed. Keeping things sparse, as Braxton does on the former, can be an incredibly powerful tool if used correctly, but you have to give your audience something, and the track comes to feel like an empty offering pretty early on. That said, even the shorter tracks seem to drag on much longer than their running time: the two minute long Galveda lasts an eternity.
HIVE1 began its life as the accompaniment to a performance piece, and indeed, in that context, it might well have worked. But it would be a stretch to even call this an album. As it is, it’s a collection of noise: a Metal Machine Music for the modern age, only without the punkish sensibilities, the ‘screw you’ attitude, or the benefit of getting there first.