[REVIEW] Alias – Pitch Black Prism

It’s a bold move to release an album that was self-described as “cold, bleak, glacial” just after the summer solstice, but it appears as though Anticon co-founder Alias has done just that. Three years post-Fever Dream has put Alias in an almost inescapably frigid place, sonically. His new album Pitch Black Prism is unrelentingly ominous, its barren urgency takes shape in sharp, crystalline form. Truly a metaphorically glacial album – iced, structured, oddly beautiful, and with much to be seen under the surface. If you’re a Boards of Canada / Aphex Twin fan… you’re probably gonna like this one.

As I write this, it’s edging upon midnight here in Berlin, and I’m glad I chose this hour to hide in a corner with my headphones to listen. Pitch Black Prism is made for exactly this circumstance, perhaps only enhanced by a slick icy view out of the window. The album kicks off with “Ghost Cloudz” where a reverberated pitched female vocal starts and lingers before delving into “trap”-oriented (for the record, calling anything trap now sucks, but there it is) drum pattern with high snaps and echoing high-pitched cries. It’s frenetic and schizophrenic, changing its identity and direction constantly – which is a definite mood of the whole album. Fellow Anticon artist Doseone appears on the second track, “Crimson Across,” and raps meniacally over thundering bass drums and triplet snares. It’s aggressive, eerie, at times reminiscent of a personal favorite Mykki Blanco’s sinister hollow rap style. “Amber Revisions” carries on with the style we see in “Ghost Cloudz,” these sort of frenzied drum loops with moody and cold synths layered with multidirectional vocal cries. “Gold cLOUDDEAD Skiez” (I see what you did there) sounds initially as if somethings gone awry in your headphones – simply just massive reverbs on the bass. Until an arpeggiated melody kicks in its fairly cacophonous – and even then the track barely scrapes itself off a dark floor…  carried only by a moaning and slowed vocal. The album thankfully then moves to a much more ambient place on “Joseph Greenleaf Mornings,” which is unsurprisingly the lightest track so far,  yet with its huge echoed drum patches is still as cold as ever. It should be noted here that Alias was originally an MPC-based producer, and Pitch Black Prism is his first official foray into an entirely software-based method of production. With similar beat-stylings seen in classic MPC production it’s hard to tell he strayed away this time. We see more featured vocals on “Indiiggo” from Therese Workman, whose ghostly yet prominently female vocals work well with the harmonious chords and jarring staccato of drums.

At this point in the record it’s become abundantly clear that this is an explorative piece for Alias, a journey through the icy winds and dark mountains of a metaphorical place that seems close in its familiarity yet incredibly distant in its appearance. Track 10 seems like track 5, in a combination of what I can best guess as a transient state of mind and a rushed flow to the album. Although perhaps what I appreciate most in an album is cohesion – a flow and a point – there are tracks on the album that when picked out singularly don’t stand out on their own. The album finishes with a snarl and a poof, with the title track “Pitch Black Prism” as well as “Slackened Onyx” delivering sneering, wet and twisted sounds before dropping into “Aikotune” which is ethereal and transient and perhaps the most audible proof of Alias’ hip-hop stylings. While most of the album expresses itself as an instrumental exploration, “Aikotune” could easily lend itself to an R&B vocal.

Pitch Black Prism is an album meant to be enjoyed as it was likely created and indeed intended for – in your headphones, straight through, with only the stark depths of your mind or your surroundings. It’s an easy record to get lost in… frenzied and rigid drums combined with ghostly or sinister vocals and synths whose only recognizable identity is “hurried and bleak” leave you simultaneously thoughtful and thoughtless. I can also appreciate the stark colors and jewels referenced in the tracklisting, which aid in the comparison of the record to the alien beauty and sheer immenseness of the Northern Lights. The record, much like a journey through a snowy mountain, is one that takes you from moments of wonder and panic to, in the end, some red cheeks and goosebumps but an inevitable appreciation of the cold exploration of parts unknown.

You can purchase the album, out now on Anticon, by clicking here: ALIAS – PITCH BLACK PRISM

1. Ghost Cloudz
2. Crimson Across It feat. Doseone
3. Vermillion Coda
4. Amber Revisions
5. Gold cLOUDDEAD Skiez
6. Joseph Greenleaf Mornings
7. Pistachio Payoff
8. Vallejo’s Sapphire Views
9. Indiiggo feat. Therese Workman
10. Amethyst Afternoon
11. Pitch Black Prism
12. Slackened Onyx
13. Aikotune