If you’re at all a follower of the works of Bryan Day, much about “Surface Politics” will be familiar, such as the two-word titles that seem to be randomly chosen from a dictionary, and of course the improvised arhythmic electroacoustic sounds. Day, known as the proprietor of the Public Eyesore label and for his invented contact-miked sound-producing contraptions including an array of segments of metal tape measure and a large trapezoidal wooden frame with some sort of torpedo-shaped weights hanging on wires in it — it’s anyone’s guess how this stuff works — has been on a bit of a roll releasing collaborations this past year or two, and fans of past and present Day projects such as Eloine, Seeded Plain, and Office Park will find plenty to enjoy if they can find these items.
Patio Slang is Day on his homemade instruments and radio transceivers and one Toyohiro Okazaki, with whom I’m not familiar but who seems to be involved with a group called Dislocation, on unspecified “electronics.” “Surface Politics” claims to have been recorded in the spring of 2012 in Day’s hometown of Decorah, Iowa and what I assume to be Okazaki’s home, Ichinomiya, Japan. Whether they got together and recorded live or exchanged recordings by mail or internet is unspecified and of little consequence.
On cassette format it’s not always obvious with this kind of music where one track ends and the next begins and Matt Reis didn’t see fit to insert any long pauses to mark the transitions clearly, but the shifts in sonic character are noticeable enough on “Surface Politics” to highlight the variety of colors and textures that set them apart if you’re listening closely, while the tape as a whole also flows together well enough to take in as two long pieces if so inclined.
"Tenement Floe" opens things up with scraping, rustling, rubbing, junk-metal, and possibly something bumping up against a microphone, evoking a mental picture of a busy mechanics’ shop or construction site, until you notice the complete absence of power tools. "Rosewood Fixtures" is similar, but more recognizably electronic noises enter the picture in the form of squirt of a sort of flanged static, and this progression towards more electronic elements seems to continue over the A side. "Regent Primer" has a vintage sci-fi meets musique concrete feel to it, and I don’t know if it’s an intentional part of the instrumentation or an artifact of the nice loud dub to tape but there is a bit of that cool crumbly analog distortion coming from some of the louder bass tones that form a nice counterpoint to the piercing high drone present throughout the track. "Fossil Digest" brings in more metallic-acoustic elements again, I think there might be an old car fender in it.
Side B starts off with some nice resonant metal sounds on “Rotary Fields,” then adds cinematic dark-ambient synths behind them in “Boomtown Slogans.” “Vector Truant” brings back the low-frequency analog distortion in the context of more vintage sci-fi analog electronics, oscillators and ring modulators zipping about in an outer-space reverb. “Color Drain” returns to mostly acoustically-oriented metal-on-concrete sounds, and the reverb is transitioned between the cavernous parking-ramp variety and a more natural live room feel.
Overall, “Surface Politics” is a joyously busy album of excited, changing, playful sounds.