Pharmakon: “Contact” Album Review

Written By: Ethan Griggs

My Music:

Margaret Chardiet’s newest album as Pharmakon is her most grueling and grotesque yet. Just look at the wonderfully disturbing cover art and you’ll have an idea of what will ensue for the next forty minutes. Following up 2014’s excellent Bestial Burden, the new album Contact, Chardiet’s third for the Infamous Sacred Bones label, amplifies everything that gained that former album its unique praise. The screams are louder, the synths are sharper, and the whole tone of the album is decidedly more horrifying than both its forerunner and Chardiet’s debut, Abandon. Indeed, Contact sounds like a horror film for the blind, or that one amusement park ride that you were way too scared to go on as a kid.

In a press release, Chardiet explained the album’s similarity with her previous work but also the new themes she is exploring on it – touching on the note that it’s been ten years since she started the project: “The nature of existence and our sentience is chance, owing nothing to anything. Humankind is of no special significance to the universe. (Despite all our scrambling rejections, we cannot transcend all of our instincts — just animals, lost in a confused dream, where mankind is real and at the center of everything). We are each nothing but a single, short-lived cell in a vast organism which itself will one day die.”

Opening with the six minute-long musical incision of “Nakedness of Need”, Pharmakon doesn’t leave the listener guessing what will happen next with its ear piercing sound effects and her ear-piercing shrieks. It quickly segues into the dark and moody “Sentient”, which almost sounds like an airplane engine starting up in super slow motion, or the long and unending approach towards a distant blackness. From there we are taken into “Transmission”, whose introduction sounds like exactly that… dark tones and static draped over the excruciating silence of time itself. Before long, though, the boiling, bubbling synths are back in the mix along with Chardiet’s muddled and screamed commands. It sounds like the aforementioned airplane has finally landed by the time the track’s end comes around.

The album’s centerpiece is unquestionably the dense, long and droning “Sleepwalking Form”, which sounds like every movie trailer you’ve ever heard in your life. Ironically, the next track “Somatic” may be the record’s most musical track…as it consists mainly of atonal feedback and gritty digital dirt. Finally the album closes with the truly intimidating “No Natural Order”, which truly sounds like an interplanetary war that concludes with an alien abduction, accompanied only by the screams of Chardiet, who sounds like she may be the last woman on Earth. By the time the next Pharmakon album comes, I’ll still be thinking of how much Contact freaked me out.