The rubber-masked figure that grinned from the cover of last year’s Modern Jester 2xLP remains the perfect poster-boy for Aaron Dilloway’s current work, an addictive blend of Goya grotesquerie with technological mischief. The neatly-attired monochrome monstrosity, mottled with the grain of poor TV reception, seemed to have been instagrammed directly from a rerun of Rod Serling’s original Twilight Zone... In contrast, the digital artwork attached to Siena, Dilloway’s latest name-your-price release, is strangely muted: a set of hazard-warning stripes sapped of any urgency through being rendered in Hanson Records’ austere black and white.
Appearing in the wake of a string of live and collaborative albums, including the limited-run Grapes and Snakes cassette (with Jason Lescalleet) and two recordings with To Live and Shave in LA’s Tom Smith (Impeccable Transparencies and the forthcoming Allein Zu Zweit), the album’s eight tracks are similarly unassuming: straight-to-digital and without individual titles, they seem in grave danger of being drowned out, their combined signals lost in Dilloway’s growing sea of noise.
Within ninety seconds, however, Siena overturns any sense of Dilloway-as-usual, as a beguiling three-second loop, consisting primarily of acoustic guitar and sampled vocal, begins to wander lazily across the stereo field. The effect is quite unlike anything in the catalogue (conjuring the sort of stoned ambiance more familiar to fans of Endtroducing than Burned Mind), yet soon turns out to be a moment of deliberate dissimulation, as explicitly ‘musical’ samples promptly disappear from the album altogether.
The seven pieces that form the bulk of Siena reflect the casual description that Dilloway has given of its creation (“Raw recordings made inside and outside in Siena Italy”), and combine to form a subtly disorientating blend of lo-fi field recording and inorganic tape sound. The overall impression is of an unexpected hybrid between Chris Watson and Masami Akita, in which any distinction between the living and the mechanical is gradually erased.