Artwork by Darren Hopes
Thomas Ragsdale has been one half of the electronic duo worriedaboutsatan since 2005. If you happen to dive into the musical world of Ragsdale and Gavin Miller you’ll hear a prolific body of work spanning styles ranging from techno, glitch, post-rock, and ambient. They’re not a band that wants to be pigeonholed into one specific vibe. That way of working emanates in Ragsdale’s musical output outside of worriedaboutsatan as well. He steps foot in all kinds of moods and styles when working on his own; from organic songs built around piano and strings then effected and distorted on tape loops, to slow burn electronic landscapes that build like the expanse of space. Thomas Ragsdale creates worlds in his music, and they’re always engaging and ethereal.
With a new album just released in September called Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 you’d think it was time for Thomas Ragsdale to regroup and figure out where to go from here, but you’d be wrong. Ragsdale has just dropped a brand new album with the prolific record label Burning Witches Records. The album is called Self Zero and it hits the reset button on the quiet and delicate touch of Archives and turns the big synth vibes up to 11. The album is boisterous and exudes a heavy Berlin School vibe. Self Zero is the kind of end of the year record we need right now.
When Ragsdale went into the process of writing Self Zero he was channeling bands like Blanck Mass, Sunn O))), and Emptyset, and that abrasiveness comes thru here. Though, in Ragsdale’s hands it’s more like palpable desolation. Album opener “Prophet Knoth” is an expansive 8-minute komische banger that feels like some deep space exorcism. It’s constructed beautifully like a good epic track should be, but it never concedes to the listener’s expectations. It takes its own path and delights in falling apart when it feels the time is right. “Harlow’s Experiment” is next and the Froese vibes are strong with this one. Thomas Ragsdale leaves the ambient moods at the door and goes straight for the heady synth vibes. “Harlow’s Experiment” is an absolute joy to get lost in. Title track “Self Zero” keeps those big, expansive feels going. There’s an underlying feeling of anxiety lurking just below the surface in this track. Rebirth, or self-realization coming thru the heavy synths.
Elsewhere, “Teeth Upon Teeth And Limbs Dangling Beneath” feels cavernous with something dark lurking at the bottom. At times I’m reminded of Wendy Carlos’ work in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The subtle voice that comes through only adds to the darkness factor. “Jamais Vu” pulsates and snakes its way into your brain like Edgar Froese at his absolute best. “Coquina Clutch” starts as an alarm bell to possibly something sinister but settles into an ominous throb of synthesizer drone. “Heretics” closes the album on a hypnotic note. Elements of Kreng and Blanck Mass come together to create this neo-futuristic end to the dystopian musical journey Thomas Ragsdale has taken us on.
Ragsdale himself said about Self Zero, “It’s an album dedicated to through the deconstruction and manipulation of the human psyche.” After spending a good amount of time with the record I’d have to say his description feels very spot-on. There’s the feeling as the album rolls over you of a tearing down and an attempt to rebuild from the ground up. Whether it’s metaphorically tearing yourself down to nothing to try to correct crossed wires in your brain, or the actual deconstruction of humanity to right the wrongs of the world at-large, the feeling of getting down to the DNA of life and living is right here.
Self Zero is a dark, engaging, and illuminating album that shows the diversity in Thomas Ragsdale’s sonic playbook, while also gathering big ideas and concepts into one hell of an electronic record.
8.3 out of 10