Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Apparatjik - Square Peg In A Round Hole


Translated, Apparatjik as a word means 'agent of the apparatus', a Swedish equivalent to a Russian terminology regarding people who cause problems in some social manner of sorts. In one sense that is partially correct not through any intentional or unintional fault, but because even before reviewing anything about this album, I have to note that I'm basing what I hear on the finished [official] release, and not one of the seven (yep, that's right...seven) alternate draft versions that are often seen floating around the web. Away from the actual format and content beforehand, as a band, Apparatjik translates as an experimental dance-pop super-group consisting of Coldplay's Guy Berryman, Mew's Jonas Bjerre, A-Ha's Magne Furuholmen and producer Martin Terefe (his work with british singer-songwriters KT Tunstall and James Morrison likely to be his most publicly recognized contributions). The name might not be as recognizable in itself as opposed to such other fellow rock-origin band names such as The Good, The Bad & The Queen & Them Crooked Vultures, but this doesn't mean the mix of rock, pop and electronic-influenced musicians don't share the same energy and acquirement of musical deliverance that has spelt out widening and varyingly vast careers for each of them. 'Square Peg In A Round Hole' is on reflection, a presentation of that energy in as unlikely a sound one wouldn't usually associate with musicians such as these. And while the sound is a contrasting relaying of glittery high-shot disco-dancing electronic tunes, the result can not be anymore revealing in its impact.

'Timepolice' gets the ball rolling with an immediate tumble of jittery glistened dance beats, in both synthesizer and drum machine alike. It's Bjerre that takes vocals duties here (and not the only time), his uplifting dreamy tones - that have helped the Danish band to well-received success - passing between gentle murmurs, enriching calls and synthetic graining alike. Later, it's the inclusion of deeply venturous keyboard tones and glitchy effects that add even more layers to the pattering of rhythm - all of which continuing this beating down on a track already bringing a dance-esque proceeding to the album. But while the opening three minutes are often not as broad and open as other tracks on an album, the album's true diversity and deliverance of built-up  energy and muster for groove comes in the shape of the follower, 'Cervux Sequential'. Surprisingly, it's Coldplay's bassist Berryman that takes vocal duty here and, even-more-surprising, he pulls off both the lyrics and the voice with a fittingly energetic charm. 'Have you seen the writing on the screen?', Barrymen leads, in his uplifted polynomal mix of human and non-human textures, 'There will be a time for us/Keep watching it' The addition of synthetics to his tone, rather than hindering the lead-in to the song's main riff, rather adds to the sci-fi vibe pulsating through - delving the track into this acid-like awe of house beats and dreamy pop hooks that follows. So too is the awe still present when the track descends quite unexpectedly into a chasm-like drop of breakbeat patterns; wobbles of synthesized bass and drums pulsating into the closing lines of the song.

There's certainly a feeling of optimism and positivity flowing through this record. More-so on a track like 'Tell The Babes' which focuses less on the constructiveness of the lyrics and more on its overall deliverance and impulse with the track's upbeat nature. Bjerre once more lets his gracious tone of voice lead the deliverance of sound - guitar-strung tones and hefty drum beats passing in and out of choruses. With a track like this, vocals are more intertwined with the music than they are on others, but where you'd assume this may be their weakest deliverance, actually comes off as their, at the very least, most passionate - the performing nature of countless dance-pop/electro-pop outfits trumped almost entirely by a group most likely ten years (at least) their senior. But Apparatjik's palette isn't entirely electronic and beat-orientated. 'Do It Myself' shows a more humble and natured side to the group's ideas. Bjerre once more taking centre stage here, but instead dropping the dreamy landscaping and instead delivering this more modest and honest scope of personalized story-telling. Playing more like a humble RnB execution (without all the unnecessary name-dropping and references to surrounding culture), it adds a lot more of an outdoor ambition without coming across as egotistical or cocky, because of it. It's a simple song with a simple hook, but what's more respected is that it makes no attempt to try and over-glamourize its sound.

One of the problems that faces electronic music - and more specifically, music tailored for the congested dance halls and glitter-ball discos with multitudes of flashing lights - is that you're taking a risk. Either you favor simplicity and risk it coming across as repetitive, or focus more on it being multi-layered and wide-angled in its content and thus risk it being over-bloated, thus becoming the musical equivalent of too sweet it's sickly. But what Apparatjik showcase more and more as this album progresses is a finely-pitched balancing of both choices. 'Combat Disco Music' which could, in some respect, come across as a heart-thumping unshackled stadium anthems still manages to keep its size and its expanse in measure. The stop-start march of pace present throughout keeps momentum flowing true, but it's the vocal shifts between Bjerre and Barrymen that remind us of the energy and passion coursing through this song. The simple beats and quirky use of guitars don't, as a result, turn out stale and add a fresh exchange of sound and strength alike.

Even when the album turns into more ballad-orientated sounds, their razor-cut fineness of synth usage and beats still aids the track in keeping a gentle groove moving throughout. '(Don't Eat The Whole) Banana' may come across on paper as something ridiculously easy to pass up and avoid, but even with the childish simplicity of lyrics and the cheery glow of warm electronics, it's the usage of piano and drums again that stands more of a highlight than anything else. And while it's easy to get lost amid the clouded-over awe surrounding the track's layering, it's just as easy to find yourself buried beneath the cloud of reverb and distortion that actually avoids hindering the song and keeps its short-but-sweet execution away from becoming either lazily or awkwardly produced. But I guess that's down to Terefe's contribution and his knowledge of how brighter palettes of sound work best.

I can't help but feel slightly anxious as to what a so-called 'supergroup' may entail regarding the content they output, primarily because it's either more-of-the-same from their original outfits or something completely out-of-the-blue and - as a result of it - a severe case of misjudgment and mistaken identity. Apparatjik may come from differing backgrounds individually - and more-so from different corners of musical identity and ideology - but miraculously, here stands an album that is both uniquely different to their major outputs, and at the same time entertaining on equal measures of content and context alike. 'Square Peg In A Round Hole' isn't necessarily perfect or accessible to all, but it certainly pivots the feel-good optimism of dance music into a new direction where concern over such matters as lyricism and ego are in short supply. Simply put, it's a workable, danceable and delightfully glimmering working of electronics. Side-projects and solo work may not get as much attention as an artist's major releases, but that doesn't mean it's any less quality. In some cases - in the rarest of scenarios - it's often better. And tempting fate here, this might be one of those such cases.
~Jordan

8.2

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