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This long-gestating box set of Scottish electronic pioneer Drew McDowall’s solo work takes its title from a technical term meaning ‘plate’ or ‘layer’, most often used in contexts either geological or anatomical: Lamina. He speaks of the compiling process similarly: “Digging into my archives felt like a mix of psychoanalysis and archaeology – uncovering buried things.” The six CD collection includes expanded editions of his four most recent Dais LPs (Collapse, 2015; Unnatural Channel, 2017; The Third Helix, 2018; and Agalma, 2020), alongside a disc of rarities (Undulations and Aberrations) and one of live performances (Entanglement). Taken together, it presents a definitive portrait of McDowall’s cryptic, questing artistry, forever seeking “that sense of stepping over a threshold.”
The bonus material in particular is revelatory, broadening both the context and complexity of its respective full-length. “Palisades,” a Collapse outtake, patiently builds a mantric throb into a rippling cascade of head-nodding cosmic noise, like some glowing shrapnel splintered off the rest of the record. “Tell Me The Name (Alt Version),” a reworking of the eerie opener of Unnatural Channel, embodies McDowall’s goal for the compilation as “a window into the process of iteration.” More emaciated and reptilian than the original mix, the track shivers and shimmers in a reverie of alien melancholy, a corrupted file of some interdimensional hymn. “False Memory Demo,” from The Third Helix sessions, showcases the textural trial-and-error behind these compositions – a wobbly collage of seasick scrapings, sine waves, and tectonic circuitry, tested like source material in a lab. Similarly, an unreleased Agalma vault cut, “Cest,” captures the artist at the brink of breakthrough – a time-stretched drone traced in muffled voices and phasered haze dilates across five lysergic minutes. It’s the sound of a palette being refined, poised for deployment.
The fifth disc spans two decades of stray recordings, from 90’s studio experiments to lost comp tracks to sold-out tapes, modular oddities, and rhythmic sketches. Sequenced chronologically, it demonstrates the zig-zagging evolution of McDowall’s sound, colored by formative years collaborating in Coil but extrapolated into freshly forking paths: industrial dub, icy downtempo, tonal devotionals, hexed gamelan, interstitial murk. The suite of live sets, too, is essential listening. He describes his inclusion criteria as performances that fuse “the sacred and the feral, like you’re in a cathedral but the floor is dirt.” All four recordings are rich and unhinged: a spiraling, seething, somber voyage for Ascetic House and Mount Analog’s’s dark experimental series, Nuit Noire; a jagged, dissonant excerpt from his Collapse release show at New York venue Alphaville; a fractured, psychedelic rendering of “Agalma III” for Root Radio’s Exist Festival live stream; and a delirious, magisterial take of “Agalma I” for the Agalma release party at Strange Editions produced by Quo Vadis (his ambition for which was “to mirror the pandemic-related ontological feeling of being suspended in mid-air”).
Despite its duration, Lamina is a leanly plotted survey, devoid of dead weight. Few artists as omnivorous as McDowall are also as self-editing – his standards are rigorous, and revealing: “While working, I’m always changing things, hacking them away, abandoning them when they don’t work. When listening back I’m looking for a sense of awe and wonder. Otherworldly magic. If I’m not hearing that, I don’t see the point.”