January 20th, 2017 | Album reviews

Conditioned Reflex

Destruction, subversion, espionage, paranoia: the throbbing urgency behind Barrett Avner’s latest output is informed by a swirling sense of seemingly omnipresent digital dread. His guitar work is always reliably rich in its expressiveness, but unlike his previous outings as Sadistic Candle or his time spent as part of the Sun Araw Band, Conditioned Reflex positions Avner’s guitar contrasted against the stark matrix of pulsing and panicked drum machines—it’s like a human voice, or perhaps a flashlight clutched in the fist of someone sprinting through the darkness. On tracks like “Red Bones, Black Grass,” it sounds downright Princely as it twists through a grim forest of industrial pumping and ominous chants. It’s the organic tendril through an otherwise synthetic universe peppered with distant sound bites of BBC talking heads chattering about daggers and assassinations, handheld radio dispatches, and anguished screams. The album is relentless in its momentum, culminating in the punishing 7-minute single “I Saw The Light.” As its final bar throbs to a close, a sense of shared experience lingers, as though Avner and the listener have traversed the shadows of the digital jungle and have emerged and collapsed, panting—and not a moment too soon.

— Christina Gubala