One of the best Milwaukee albums of 2016 was Heath Death’s 9 Steps To A Happier Life. The brainchild of Kenneth Sabbar, 9 Steps was a noisy, post-punk assault that delved into the “unhappy aspects of existence, with lyrics about loneliness, being trapped in the drudgery of work or domestic life, and the cruelty of modern dating.” Now, Sabbar (working under the moniker Tarek Sabbar) is taking things in a different direction with two tracks for Milwaukee electronic label Close Up of the Serene. Unlike Heat Death, “Plastic Bags” and “8 & 14” are machine-driven, restrained, and precise; like Heat Death, they’re brooding, bold, and brilliantly bleak.
The new tracks aren’t Sabbar’s first foray into electronic climes. Since 2013, Dead Pawn has been the musician’s vehicle for more ambient and minimalist explorations. All three projects are connected by a willingness to explore, and a willingness to embrace the unfamiliar. “With Heat Death, I am still the person in charge, but I don’t necessarily dictate all the parts and there is room for collaboration,” Sabbar says. “With Dead Pawn, I see it as operating less as a band or even a music project and almost entirely as a sort of art project. I rarely play shows with it—the music is largely experimental.
“The Tarek Sabbar material lands in the middle,” he continues, “in that it isn’t a band, but it halfway sounds like it could be one. It also isn’t music that really could be seen as standalone art in my mind, as it is music that is very much operating in the realm of club music and rock music. I view it as me taking on a sort of persona of, ‘If I were to be somebody really into the night club scene…what would it be like?’ Club culture has always intrigued me only because I have been on the periphery of it.”
Stream the kraut-channelling “Plastic Bags” and the wickedly wonky “8 & 14” below.