Songwriter and producer Rusty Santos gained a considerable reputation in the New York music scene of the early 2000s. He’s principally known for scoring a producer credit on Animal Collective’s breakthrough record, Sung Tongs, and he also contributed to Panda Bear’s soon-to-be-era-defining Person Pitch. He’s made a few nascent stabs at a solo career, but World I See is a group effort, recorded with fellow New Yorkers Mina and Jesse Lee. The album is a fragmented mixture of freeform jams and ideas that have been cut together by the band. Scraps and remnants of their music are crudely edited into a barely cohesive whole, with each segment vying for attention like an unruly child.
The opening song, “Heavens on Ice,” is indicative of their approach. Its 13 and-a-half minute runtime certainly gives listeners plenty of scope to decide whether they’re on board with Santos and his crew. The track begins with great washes of treated guitar that drunkenly spiral then fade away. A percussive pattern, reminiscent of the rim shots Panda Bear takes in Animal Collective, anchors the song for a while, before it spins off in multiple directions.
The Present’s patchwork approach to music making often lends a willful formlessness to their songs. It makes it increasingly difficult to define where they’re coming from, and I suspect they like it that way. The ghostly screams in the middle of “Heavens on Ice” even recall the hauntology genre (Ghost Box, Mordant Music) that emerged from the U.K. a few years ago. But just when you’ve got a handle on their sound, they send it careering in a different direction, with “Heavens on Ice” closing with what sounds like a sample from Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman.”
This Burroughsian cut-up approach often causes World I See to resemble a bastardized 21st century take on Faust’s classic The Faust Tapes. One thing is abundantly clear: The members of the Present are desperate to haul themselves away from anything that threatens to siphon their music into a consistent pattern. Reference points occasionally surface. The title track is reminiscent of a quieter, more considered take on early Butthole Surfers. “Love Melody” opens with a dampened piano intro that recalls Brian Eno’s ambient works, then gets scorched beyond all recognition.
World I See isn’t an easy listen, but it’s not difficult to see why Animal Collective and Santos were so compatible back when they were producing albums like Here Comes the Indian and Danse Manatee. Santos has retained the same spirit of experimentation in which those albums were made, and has found some very capable co-conspirators in Lee and Mina. The penultimate track on the record, “Africanized Beatniks,” is the song that’s most clearly indebted to Animal Collective. But it’s also the most structured cut on the record, and it will be fascinating to see whether that’s an indication of the Present’s future direction.