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Fresh from Webbed Hand Records is a new EP from the mysterious Van Aken Project. I can’t find anything by way of background information about the artist, who describes the release as “a deep and dark journey in the dreadful corners of the soul”. Upfront, there’s an expectation that the listener may be in for something bleak.

“Crawling Rapture” kicks off with a clambering bassline which pulls the listener into a slow, loping trip hop rhythm, fuelled by spooky organ stabs, and with scattered snatches of what sounds like a police radio scanner. It’s very short, but it’s an excellent opener. Dark, but not in a dark ambient sense.

“Kira”, the centrepiece of the album at over fifteen minutes long, starts with a distant, pummelling beat and ethereal voices, and quickly takes us into a series of single piano notes, before moving into a beatless void of dark ambience. A ticking sound, like a warped clock, moves in and across the soundfield. A slow, almost funereal organ plays a sequence of notes while the ambience shivers around us. A mid-range metallic thud begins underneath a repetitive wind instrument. Clarinet, perhaps? A dark pad brings in a descending motif, and an angelic choir fades in and overlays the top of the music as the pad makes way for gentle piano. Discordant strings push the piano aside, before it returns with more urgency. The track fades out with ghostly, distressed voices. It’s quite a journey.

Mid-way through the album in terms of tracks, “Room22” has a much more industrial feel, with a clanking machine-like beat. Odd snatches of spoken word and singing appear; a different room in the same building. The penultimate cut, “Outside”, is set in a big, dubby space, with harp and far away birdsong. A minor series of synth chords pulls us forward relentlessly. Strings and trumpet move in as the dub beat leaves. It feels as though we’ve been placed right inside a story where we don’t understand the rules. Lovely stuff.

The EP finishes with the oppressive “Entombed Colony”. A relentless buzz of alien insects draws the listener into a dark, factory-like hive. A solid, complex rhythm propels the music forward; the rhythm gives way to quiet, delayed synth stabs, which float the track towards the final closing of the hive-tomb’s heavy entrance.

Label: Webbed Hand   Cat: WH230   Artist: Van Aken Project   Price: Free

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