Claude Speeed stuns with synthetic sounds that defy genre

Planet Mu signee Claude Speeed has emerged from seclusion once more to gift us with Infinity Ultra, an album that is as stylistically broad as it is undefinable. A Scottish native, Speeed originally began his musical career as part of “American Men,” a post-rock outfit where he allegedly traded “guitars for synths.” His presence within electronic music is sparse, having released only a few remixes and an EP since his debut album My Skeleton.

However, having few releases does not equate to inactivity in Claude’s case: Between 2012 and 2017 he wrote 120 tracks for Infinity Ultra, of which only 15 made the cut. As a result, Infinity Ultra plays like a mix of five years’ worth of captivating musical ideas, kept together by deftly placed sonic mortar, and proves to be worth its painstaking creation.

If nothing else, Infinity Ultra is full of tonal changes. Bridled alongside its short descents into noisy chaos is an everlasting love for the emotional power of the synthesizer, used throughout the album to display apexes of hope and joy and nadirs of despair and bleakness. “XY Autostream” and “Fifth Fortress” call us back to the ’80s and ’90s respectively, using synths to foment nostalgia for the soundtracks of the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sony PlayStation, while “Entering the Zone” blends an arpeggiating synth with powerful rock drumming which recalls Phil Collins’ flair for the instrument.

Taking cues from Oneohtrix Point Never’s Eccojams Vol. 1 and Ekkehard Ehlers’ Plays, the final track, “Dreamdream,” fixates upon a loop of Katy Perry saying “dream” over and over, swelling it gradually into a saccharine anthem, worthy of the finale of a colorburnt 80s movie.

“Alternate Histories” deserves a special mention here. The track features Kuedo, a longtime collaborator of Speeed’s. Much of Kuedo’s solo work takes heavily from and focuses on deconstructing club music, which brings with it bassy rhythms and staccato hi-hats. However, this track finds him restraining those elements in favor of Speeed’s focus on anxiety and space. The track begins with a signature bass kick and cymbal, and immediately shifts to something almost resembling a meditative drum beat, interspersed with scraping metal and a faint twinkle of a synthline. Having helped Speeed perform the final cutting of the album, Kuedo’s contribution to Infinity Ultra is most heard in sparse and dissonant tracks like “Center Tech” and “Windows 95,” where his flair for dynamics and reserved, dark elements take center stage. Infinity Ultra also presents a certain aggression to the listener. The record weaves in and out of noise the way one would manually adjust a camera lens: at once blurring the picture beyond recognition, and gradually moving from soft focus into a landscape of sudden clarity. Walls of noise ebb, flow and crash in tracks like “800 Super NYC,” which bears some similarity to experimental artist Kevin Drumm’s all-enveloping and infernal noisescapes.

Photo courtesy of Planet Mu Records

Although these breaks from music can register as harsh and dull, these interludes never seem without purpose. By contrast, they are carefully spaced within the record: The overamplified and muddled guitar experimentation in “Serra” presents an immediate stark divergence from the bucolic and uplifting synth tones of “BCCCC,” and “VZJD” serves as a final reminder of Speeed’s willingness to integrate unforgiving feedback and drone elements with ethereal and wispy synth lines.

With its undefinable concept and hodgepodge of ideas and stylistic influences, Infinity Ultra seems difficult to categorize nicely into the fold of modern electronic music.  Speeed has been OK with this being the case, as the album was borne of a nebulous concept and defies explanation from the artist himself.

“It’s very difficult for me to come up with any words that really describe it,” Speeed said in an interview with Bandcamp Daily. “It’s like a lot of different elements that loosely hang together, or spin ’round the same sort of fulcrum.”

More than anything else, Speeed desires that Infinity Ultra should speak for itself, as it should — it has a lot to say.

Sean Morgenthaler is a junior majoring in computer science. He is also the music director of KXSC Radio. The rotating guest column, “KXSC Radio,” runs Thursdays.