Oliver Coates :: skins n slime

Recently, the British cellist and producer Oliver Coates posted a photograph of himself—wearing a mask and tenderly cradling a child—on Instagram. The image all too accurately sums up the tug-of-war many of our lives have become in 2020, as we struggle to find love and beauty in a landscape riddled with disease and despair. The words “pastoral metal” are superimposed at the top of the photo, seemingly a generous gift to the reviewer gingerly seeking to encapsulate Coates’s new album in a single, short phrase.

skins n slime is not an easy listen by any means. The record resolutely chooses to veer off-track, taking a sharp turn from its predecessor Shelley’s on Zenn-La’s experimental dance influences, into barren and decaying sonic surroundings. Coates processes his cello sounds, making use of two digital loopers—distortion and chorus—modulating the strings so that the effect sounds like somebody grinding a knife in an electric sharpener. And woven into this abrasive tapestry are crackling and static tracks that sound like they were recorded straight onto ancient disintegrating tape, their fragile and brittle sounds alternating with murky pneumatic noises to create a metallic and droney aural sludge.

Except, that is, when moments of pure, keening beauty snake their way through the minuscule cracks Coates has left open, like delicate plant tendrils in search of a ray of sunshine. A single cello plays a dozen plaintive and mournful bars, cutting clearly and precisely through the sonic goop. But, much like the natural stunning beauty of Coates’s adopted home in the Scottish Highlands, here too, danger constantly lurks beneath a seemingly placid and wondrous surface. And no matter whether beauty or decay finally comes out tops in this tug-of-war, bearing witness to Oliver Coates’s struggle makes for a thrilling, if unsettling, listen all the same. | a. tobin

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