Review: Matt Jencik’s Weird Times Is Ambient Music for the Impending Apocalypse
Weird Times, the title of the debut solo album by journeyman experimental musician Matt Jencik, contains an uncommon politicization of a word that usually brings to mind pop song parodies and horny teenaged science experiments. “I’ve always liked that H.P. Lovecraft’s usage of the word ‘weird’ meant something more creepy, twisted or sinister, not how it’s mostly used today, something that’s just different or somewhat curious,” Jencik said in a recent interview with The Out Door. “Everything that’s going on right now seems like an alternate universe, something that cosmic horror writers often write about in their stories. I thought using the Lovecraft version of the word ‘weird’ actually fit current events more so than the current usage.” Indeed, the times are weird enough that Jencik can make meaningful assertions about cosmic horror and alternate universes without ever having to actually explain what he’s talking about.
Over the years, Jencik has played bass with math-rock heroes Don Caballero and in the reunited touring lineup of the legendary Slint, as well as guitar in his own post-punk outfit Implodes. As a soloist, he makes instrumental music that drifts along slowly but purposefully, layering loops of noise and yawning pitches, more interested in texture and atmosphere than it is in melody or dynamic change. One easy point of comparison is William Basinski, but on a smaller scale–the longest of these pieces barely crack five minutes–and with a more deliberate, less process-oriented style of composing.
Jencik created Weird Times by manipulating and combining old demo recordings he made of guitar riffs that were never fully fleshed out into songs. But few of the sounds on the album are immediately recognizable as guitar. “Cosmic Horror” features a loop of natural harmonics, the ringing percussive sounds that are produced when you lightly touch an instrument’s strings at particular points along its neck, and the stuttering main theme of “Glass Blow” sounds like a snippet of an arpeggiated chord. More often, Jencik stretches out the sounds and smothers them in reverb, rendering them blank and reflective. “The Future Door,” the most forcefully rhythmic thing on the album, features harmonies that are nearly monastic in their simplicity, looped quickly and layered against noise that evokes howling wind. Together, it ends up sounding like The Field’s shoegazey ambient techno, with all of the percussion tracks scooped out and thrown away.
Much of Weird Times gives the sense of floating in a tranquil tide pool while the ocean rages around you, or being locked in a well-appointed panic room, receiving updates through radio static about the war outside. Jencik has perfected the kind of haunted beauty that ambitious metal bands love to sedate you with before you’re pummeled with kick drum and distorted guitar, but in his music, the violent catharsis never arrives. In that way, Weird Times does feel apposite to our political moment, as Jencik winked at in his Out Door interview. For those of us who are privileged enough to avoid the crosshairs of newly empowered immigration enforcers, and who don’t have family members caught up in the Muslim travel ban, the last three weeks have unfolded with uncanny calm. You have the knowledge that your countrymen are suffering, that your president could trip over himself and start a war with Iran or North Korea, that Congress will methodically dismantle the meager protections we have against another financial meltdown, and always the threat of some fresh horror lodged in the folds of Sean Spicer’s gullet, waiting to escape and ooze forth at his next press briefing. But other than all that? For now, life remains weirdly comfortable.