For the release of their debut LP on Chicago-based Kranky records, Melissa Guion-fronted trio MJ Guider introduced it as “inspired and influenced by the landscape in and near New Orleans.” Precious Systems is its sonic topography: the echoing, rattling drum rhythms its industrial heart, the ambient drones its expansive, low, marshland surroundings, and the washing vocals a reflection of the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain which carve out the boundaries of this Louisiana core. Through their use of ageing technology - a Rickenbacker 3000, a Roland R-8 drum machine, and a RE-501 tape echo - this otherworldly version of New Orleans feels like a beautiful and delicate abstraction of industrial decay and still, desolate surroundings.
The influence of science fiction helps push the record’s soundscapes into these abstract realms; thematically, the attention to light and dark (Triple Black, White Alsatian) or, more broadly, clarity and obscurity (Surfacing First, Their Voices Clear Now) conjure the transcendental. Powerful album opener Lit Negative demonstrates this most clearly. Slowly releasing thudding and tangibly mechanical drums into celestial synth tranquility, Guion questions, “Is there light on the inside? Sensory on decline.” This balance of the real and un-real continues throughout, shifting between multi-tonal drone and more fleshly acoustic sounds, like the broken piano chord in Former Future Begins and the quick shallow breaths in Their Voices Clear Now. In these moments, Precious Systems hangs in the calm and the cosmic.
Cuts like White Alsatian - one which builds in intensity until the reverb kicks in on Guion’s vocals to strobe effect - present a more forceful and disruptive side of nature. At ten minutes long, Evencycle is the album’s late centrepiece; its the most evocative of New Orlean’s industrial heartland, the rolling R-8 drum pattern looping over and over, and is the closest Precious Systems gets to a transcendental, close-to-techno club experience. Though it’s at these points where the album really stands strong, this can only be achieved by the balance of its slow-burning shoegaze stillness.
Precious Systems is progressively powerful. It’s a truly remarkable debut, one that takes the natural and manmade landscapes of Guion’s home city and transforms them into a gripping and enticing soundscape. These may not be unfamiliar sounds (see Grouper and Tropic of Cancer) but the impact is still utterly profound. It is New Orleans through the flickering of heat-warped Super 8 film: hazily antiquated, intangible, spell-binding.
Words: Josie Roberts