Cairo-based musician Onsy’s first album, 225 MG, will be officially released later this year under pioneer IDM and experimental label Schematic Records but is currently streaming online. When he played the EP for the first time in January, as part of digital and electronic arts collective Mapping Possibilities (of which I am also a part), his 40-minute act of well-designed microscopic and ambient sounds seemed to intrigue and attract the audience.
The first track, 225, consists of layers of similar colors, revealing two of the album’s main features: ambient sounds and repetition.
When the powerful opening of 1994 interrupts its steady, relaxed mood with bass and manipulated white noise, Onsy paves the way for other sounds used in the rest of the album, like clicks and glitches. These are supported by kicks and snares that sound unfamiliar and interesting. Surprisingly, there are no new melodies – mainly sound manipulation.
The following track, Freq001, also gives us a chance to contemplate minor changes. Just as repetition almost borders on boredom, Onsy creates a shift by skillfully adding another layer and more effects, restoring the track’s vibrancy. Freq001 is one of the album’s best tracks, relying largely on a rhythm section of colliding sounds, like scratches, clicks and glitches, against an ambient atmosphere. Onsy’s interest in Kangding Ray, who has released material on the German electronic label Raster-Noton, and Phoenecia can be felt, as much as the influence of Autechre’s 1990s output. The track’s distinct IDM line is maintained to the end of the album.
Freq009 sees those first three tracks culminate in the album’s definitive track, and its most relatable one. Its only flaw may be an overuse of repetition.
But the album’s strong coherence wanes in the second part of Crack Cake, the penultimate track. After a long, 225-like introduction comes an unexpected array of breakbeats. Although they’re finely executed, they disrupt its harmony.
The finale, CuttOFF V3, is quite similar, which sets both tracks apart. Despite maintaining some of the album’s key ideas and sounds, they give the impression that they don’t belong to the same set, dividing the album in two.
The mastering was done by Mohamed Siksik of Pie Are Squared. Onsy should have used the mixing to add new dimensions to the sounds, but it is rather limited, lacking horizontal dimensions and a stereo image, keeping all sounds on the same level. The decision not to incorporate tempo variations was a choice that led to not increasing the dynamics between the tracks. Although, some might see this as giving the album more conceptual coherence.
The artwork, by musician Omar al-Abd, reflects the album’s textures and spirit.
Overall 225 MG is an interesting release and a strong debut. It requires concentration to relate to it – more than just a casual listen. Repeated and careful listening reveals the fresh and mature ideas in its production, composition and sound design.
This review was first published in Arabic on Ma3azef.