Essential New Music: Innode’s “Grain”

Grain is the third recording by Innode, a trio founded by ex-Radian and Lokai guitarist Stefan Németh. If you had to sum up his creative process in a phrase, it would be “change within clear parameters.” Over the past quarter century, his collaborators, tools and procedures have shifted with time so that even the decision to surrender to circumstances, which is what it took to make Grain, is a consciously executed plan.

Innode has been Németh’s main project over the past decade. He’s set aside the digitally abstracted guitar sounds he used in previous settings in order to focus on synthesizers and samplers, whose outputs are easily distinguished from the acoustic and programmed drums of Bernhard Breuer (Elektro Guzzi, Tumido) and Steven Hess (Locrian, Haptic, Cleared). The title of the first Innode album, 2013’s Gridshifter, was a study in sequential transformation. Each drummer was brought in separately to lay rhythms (played and triggered) over Németh’s sounds, noises and pulses. After the record’s release, they turned into a collective trio that toured, composed and recorded together. Their next record, 2021’s Syn, was a palpable band effort: loud, catchy and overtly rocking. But with Breuer and Németh in Vienna, Hess in Chicago and a peskily persistent pandemic disrupting gatherings and travel, Innode couldn’t continue in that mode.

Instead, they decided to carry on however they could and see what happened. The process started with intentionally irregular drumkit performances played by Breuer, over which he and Németh laid arhythmic sounds. Hess dispatched separately recorded drums, electronics and field recordings, which the Austrians then chopped and scrambled as they assembled the material. As with Gridshifter, the title Grain is a decoding key. Its seven tracks derive tension from contrasting sonic texture—big drumbeats against time-stretched cymbals, pure synths against blown-up blasts, awkwardly cut rhythms against slowly evolving melodies and flowing streams of gritty sound.

Individual sounds have been subjected to more processing than in the past, then mixed together in an illusion of three dimensions, rather like a film in which the foregrounded action is contradicted or completed by distantly perceived events. The result is music with plenty of surface appeal, but also a depth of that gives up its secrets gradually, providing the listener reasons to return again and again. [Editions Mego]

—Bill Meyer