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Pharmakon: Contact Review

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Pharmakon: <i>Contact</i> Review

According to statements she’s released, Contact, Margaret Chardiet’s third album as Pharmakon is about transcending the physical – breaking out of the prison of self to connect with the world outside our skin.

Doing so at one of Chardiet’s live performances is easy. Very little compares to the exquisite tension and harrowing release of seeing her live. Distancing yourself from the experience would take a Zen master or a lot of drugs, but there is something about the physical presence of those raw sounds that doesn’t translate on record. Still, listening to her recorded statements has its own rewards. They transform her noise rituals into texts, something that can be studied and reflected on with some distance, at least more so than her concerts where she strives to eliminate that possibility. On this new document, she comes very close to eliminating that possibility completely.

The N.Y.C.-based noise musician has stated that the structure of the album’s tracks was inspired by trance states, but compared to the labored biological rhythms of 2014’s Bestial Burden and the oddly comforting blood-humming-in-your-ears drones of her 2013 debut Abandon, Contact is her least trance-inducing material. It’s urgent, frightening and bleak in a way that her first two albums weren’t. Every sound seems calculated to alarm and bewilder, as if to shake someone out of a trance. On “Nakedness of Need,” Chardiet’s screams, strained through a metallic effect and anchored by a distorted industrial pulse, evoke childbirth, bereavement and the most primal of incantations. On “Sleepwalking Form,” a low jet-engine drone is joined by echoing booms that sound like death itself approaching. Chardiet’s guttural declamations could be warning or accusing, even exulting.

The album is confrontational but it isn’t meant to be alienating. Unlike a lot of artists who avail themselves of the harsh, atonal sonic palette of power electronics, Chardiet is indeed seeking to connect through her music in a direct and honest way. Though the message in all the static and clanking chains isn’t humanist, there is a humanity that comes through in everything she does. There is a spirituality too, though it’s the kind that is rooted in the material world.

Contact is a ruthless exorcism of illusion. The nihilist hymn that is “No Natural Order” features semi-intelligible screams about “the chance nature of existence.” “Ours is of no special significance,” she declares. Some people find the notion that human life is meaningless to be a downer; others find it freeing. Chardiet merely hopes the idea might make us all more compassionate, more human, if only we could wake up to it.