Suboculis: Infirmus (2011)

Bio (from Facebook.com/SUBOCULIS):
Bassist Dan Menapace leads this dark, moody, solo project, blending electronic and organic soundscapes with progressive influences.

Musicians:
Dan Menapace (Bass, Guitars, Synths, Drum Programming)

From the beginning I had high hopes for Suboculis’ INFIRMUS. I was a big fan of electronic music for a long time; I still like it, but for a few years solid it was my go-to style. I love(d) Aphex Twin, µ-Ziq, Squarepusher, Autechre… the more unconventional stuff. I also enjoyed some more common electronica – like Fatboy Slim, Apollo 440, and Prodigy – but I tended to gravitate to the less “normal” and more “challenging” compositions.

 

Dan Menapace on stage with a sweet left-handed 5-string Rickenbacker bass
Dan Menapace on stage with a sweet left-handed 5-string Rickenbacker bass

The opening of track of INFIRMUS, “Causality,” peaked my interest in the first few seconds as a live (not programmed) bass riff that made me think of another of my music loves, Primus, opens the track, and is then accentuated by some electronic trippiness and atmosphere that brought Autechre to mind; this was a good start. The following track, “Incursus,” again made me smile as it has another interesting beat, somewhere in the µ-Ziq spectrum, along with another live bass line, but just as I was really starting to feel the music, it was over. “Causality” suffered from the same abrupt end. Experimental electronica (or EDM, or Ambient, or whatever the hell you want to call it) is a genre that can sustain extended compositions. SELECTED AMBIENT WORKS, VOL. 2 by Aphex Twin – probably my favorite album of the style, and by far my favorite music to write to – averages over 6 ½ minutes per song throughout the course of 23 tracks. One of the tracks, SAWV2D2T11 (aka “Untitled” as every track is officially dubbed, more commonly known as “White Blur 2”) clocks in just shy of 11 ½ minutes. This is not to say that this style of music has to be tracks of extended length, but I was a bit surprised that the longest track on INFIRMUS is just over 5 minutes, and the average length is a little shy of 3.

So many knobs, so little time...
So many knobs, so little time…

After the two short opening tracks that I enjoyed (other than lamenting their early demises), the rest of the album went both ways; there were some other tracks I found very interesting, and some not so much. “Phobophobia” was not very fear inspiring as it should be with a title like that; it was more forgettable than frightening, other than another nice bass riff (which I had come to expect by this point in the album). The best part of “Oscillatio” was its wordplay of a title, “Reset Node” felt more like a looped riff than a complete song, and “In Vitro” just took way too long to come to way too little of a payoff.

On the good side was “Narrow Escape,” which kicks off with a riff that could have been written by Apollo 440 in 1999, and follows with a more Squarepusher-esque beat. It supplements the music with some nice dialogue samples about nuclear weapons, but never quite built up to the heavier pinnacle that I was hoping for, and instead just faded away. The swan song of INFIRMUS, “The Sludge Chronicles,” was one of my favorite tracks overall. It initially evoked the feeling of a TOOL interlude, and then threatened to build into something heavy and unsettling with the first chorus at 1:20 in. Unfortunately, it withdrew 15 seconds later, back to the milder riffs and atmosphere and dialogue that again made it feel more “interlude” than “song.” The return of the chorus at 2:47 made me feel that Suboculis could seriously rock, but with its dismissal I realize Menapace chooses not to, and instead keeps to the milder areas of this dark landscape.

Stairway to Suboculis
Stairway to Suboculis

Overall I enjoyed INFIRMUS, but wished its compositions had gone bigger, edgier, and heavier for my tastes; the cover art is dark and menacing, but the music doesn’t quite match. It was refreshing to hear some electronica that didn’t have to be a fluffy radio single, support for a car commercial, or the backing track of a pop-star trying to sound edgy, and I really enjoyed the instrumental nature of the tracks and the skill of the composition, especially the live bass. It was also nice to bring back memories of music that (at one time) I couldn’t get enough of. In the end though, INFIRMUS felt watered down, a “lite” version of what the cover promised, and what I was truly hoping to hear.

Overall 6.5 / 10

INFIRMUS for sale: http://amzn.com/B005KR44LE

INFIRMUS site: http://www.suboculis.com/

infirmus cover
Suboculis: Infirmus
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