While Borders is Emptyset’s fifth full-length album, it is their first since they signed on with Thrill Jockey. With a new label, they have also entered a new phase in their experimental sound. Borders is mostly played on drums, but also uses zither-like instruments that the duo have made themselves, creating a live performance-like quality for the album.
“Body” opens the album with a sinister and relentless synthetic bass pattern that is able to build and create tension without having to layer or become technically exhausting. It creates a feeling of something impending and approaching that never comes to fruition as it ends abruptly.
“Border” follows, picking up almost exactly where “Body” left off. Whatever was coming has now moved closer, but almost halfway through the track, the tension loses some strength, as the listener’s mind becomes used to the intensity. From this point on, everything follows this pattern.
Borders attempts to produce an organic sound using inorganic instrumentation. An initial blanket listening may not yield this, though, because of the group’s minimalist approach. However, once one seeks out the subtle changes, the living parts become more apparent. Within every song, with its building tension, there is movement – even if this movement is not necessarily technical. Nothing remains stagnant, but rather moves subtly like smoke filling a room. Along with this dynamism, each song is familiar enough that, together, Borders creates an overall story arc, adding even more depth to the album’s unique sound.
Though there is success within this approach, Borders is sometimes unable to deliver on its own intensity. Every song builds on itself, but never releases and, by the third minute, things often begin to resemble white noise, as the intensity flatlines. For this reason, some songs sound like rehashes of earlier tracks, their soundscapes blending together. Though not perfect, Borders certainly has enough to carry through.