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Album Review: Chaircrusher — ‘Distelfink’


Iowa City’s very own Chaircrusher (a.k.a. Kent Williams, a regular LV contributor) is back. By Chaircrusher’s frantic standards — four albums in 2021, three each in 2020 and 2019 — 2022 has constituted a hibernation of sorts; an Eastern Gray Squirrel tucked away inside a tree hollow with nothing but an analog synthesizer for company. Yet, like all sleepy mammals, Williams finally rose, treating us to a typically glitchy single, “Chini Ya Mawe,” in June, followed by this full-length project in July. Distelfink, a slithering slice of ambient-electronica, reminds us that if you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares straight back at you.

Soft, seductive, yet ultimately unsettling, the ribbon of chimes infecting “Palisades” is what I hear in my head whenever a cryptocurrency hawker begins explaining to me how their stablecoin is the future of decentralized exchange. “It’s pegged to what? Uh-huh. Accessible across more blockchains in the future too? Great, great. I’ll get back to you when I next feel like setting my savings on fire.”

Likewise, the menace of “Fomite” is unmistakable, filling me with the same sense of dread I experience when creeping around a dark cave in Pokémon Ruby. A one-way ticket to Mount Doom, it’s an album high. Writers of American Horror Stories, take note.

By contrast, the kickdrum-driven thunder of “Adventitious” (a confident nod to Chaircrusher’s techno influences) and the shimmering melodies of “Tangram” demonstrate it’s still possible to harbor hope while living through 2022’s smoldering hellscape — even if those dreams are reduced to dusty debris by fossil fuel barons. Indeed, much like vital climate legislation, “Tangram” eventually withers away; only hi-hats are left to keep brooding synths company, as a song that started so optimistically ends on a depressing note of realism.

“Distlefink,” the album’s namesake, hardly raises the mood. A sonic ghost ship, it glides through the ether; the perfect soundtrack to a Safdie brothers film.

“Eliane”’s dissected whispers drift, chatter and evaporate, underpinned by a twinkling array of interchanging vibrations. Always just out of reach, the snatches of vocals feel like faint memories from a previous life, a Philip K. Dick novel unravelling page by page into my ears. Do androids dream of electric sheep? I’m not sure. But they definitely listen to Chaircrusher.

Eventually the scattered voices give way for “Checksum,” the album’s 22-minute closer. Step inside, where ambivalent chaos reigns supreme. Is that a sword being smelted? A 56k modem shuffling towards an internet connection? Details like that matter little once the fuzziness takes over. Imagine walking around the Johnson County Fair after a tab of acid and you get the picture. Stay away from me, prizewinning sheep! How many minutes left? Four. I can hold on. Think about anything except the void. Anything. Just not: the void.

This article was originally published in Little Village’s August 2022 issues.


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