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Sharp Veins - detritus preterit selections Music Album Reviews

Producer William Harrison King puts quantity before quality on this free, 30-track compilation of sketches, demos, and experiments whose most exciting moments highlight his flair for minimalist composition.

The disjointed club music William Harrison King makes as Sharp Veins may sound unruly, but when it comes to his recorded output, the Alabama-born, New York-based producer has tended to privilege quality over quantity. He got his break on a 2014 compilation for the influential grime label and party Boxed, under the moniker William Skeng. The next year, Sharp Veins’ debut EP Inbox Island blended dizzying, bass-heavy club bangers, grime, drone, ambient, and Southern hip-hop into a seamless and euphoric whole.

The project resurfaced last year with a second EP, bleeds colors and puddles. Released on UNO NYC, the dance label best known for putting out early works by Arca and Mykki Blanco, it found Sharp Veins’ style growing even more difficult to pin down. Lush chromatic synths collided with beats carved down from over-processed samples (including one that sounded like a nasty cough) with a newfound liquid ease. Expectations flip even further on detritus preterit selections (which essentially translates as “selected old junk”), a free, 30-track compilation of sketches, demos, experiments, and hidden gems that runs nearly two and a half hours. This warts-and-all document of King’s process offers plenty of satisfying moments and some genuine surprises.

Many of the album’s tracks (whose titles include such straight-off-the-laptop labels as “[ROUGH],” “[demo],” and even “shitty mixdown”) feel like intriguing passages from incomplete songs, but part of the fun is in listening as cuts that start out as duds abruptly explode into greatness. “Misplaced my nostalgia” meanders at first, then bursts into an ever-unfolding rush of synths, while opener “across the cfloor v2 v1” careens wildly from drones to crashing grime before introducing a chirpy hook. Tracks can hit with the maximalist shimmer of Rustie, the whip-crack sweetness of PC Music, or the warped elasticity of vaporwave pioneers like Vektroid.

Many of the best compositions, however, showcase King’s less explored flair for minimalism. Sharp Veins’ mix for the Truants series revealed a deep appreciation for ambient music, lacing his own tracks through pieces by GAS, Grouper, and William Basinski, and he explores that sound in more depth here. More an abstract painting than a rough sketch, “drawing” deploys gorgeously curling synths without ever chasing a melody. “couldnt sleep v1 [137]” buries waves of drone and noise on top of each other to soothing effect. The album’s finest moment comes on “little worm,” in which King delicately handles a single shard of sound—a digital blip that flutters like the dying breaths of one of the Disintegration Loops—until a thunderous bassline shatters the glassy atmosphere.

Detritus lacks the airtight pacing and precision of Sharp Veins’ EPs, but that’s the point. The quantity-over-quality scale and low stakes that come with releasing a free compilation give King the space to chase inspirations and test the edges of his sound. He even finds a powerful singing voice, channeling a young, distortion-bathed Jamie Stewart on the penultimate track, “lets wash our hands v3 [150].” It’s a moment that makes you see earlier tracks in a new light: The standout “crshed like a toad v1” is sweet and sharp in all the ways Xiu Xiu are, and “wash our hands” reinforces that link in a way that feels almost subconscious.

It’s surprising connections like this one that make the uneven release worth digging through. “Take these, the preterit, as a sort of ‘this is what i’ve been doing while i’ve been quiet’ then we can all move on,” King instructs listeners on Bandcamp. It’s hard to say what Sharp Veins will be moving on to, but detritus preterit selections suggests a virtually limitless field of possibilities.

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