Sunday, 3 March 2013

Jordan's Album Round-up: February

 Applescal - Dreaming In Key

Netherlands' Pascal Terstappen is one of the more recent additions to the bedroom-producer roster in the wake of dreamy electronic music. Dreaming In Key, Terstappen's third album under the Applescal moniker is not only his longest release to date - clocking in at just over 65 minutes in length - it's also his most ambitious. Though ambitious, Applescal's sound is by no means indulgent or engrossed in its own self-importance. Rather, Terstappen manages to conjure enough of an analog atmosphere in his use of withdrawn synths and sub-tropic instrumentation to conjure a rich atmosphere, but at the same time makes some well-sought well-respected use of more synthetic arrangements - taking influence from a host of sub-genres including breakbeat, glitch, garage, even hip-hop in places - while still not submissively blinding either himself or his listener to the cosy interior of an audiophile's bedroom mix-desk.

It's the independence and sense of exploration that, while doesn't necessarily show Applescal working to a determined or cemented demographic of sound, remains the fundamental component at the heart of the Dutchman's musical aesthetic. Whether it be the colourfully in-tune dubbed percussion of opener Boys; equally, the nightly suburban get-together of On The Way or the upbeat venture of Thanks For Fun or Onetasker. It's at this point, however, that you'll feel like you've heard these same ideas - albeit ideas, but performed and executed in a much better manner and more refined context. And while a track like Wise Noise On Time offers some of the more interesting usage of tone and synthetic texture in conjuring a form of metaphysical imagery about the music, it's the track-lengths and time used in both conjuring and carrying on what it is that makes these sounds so effective and worthy of an investment, that becomes lost amid the whirl and buzz of electronics. The Composer can perhaps be seen as one of Applescal's surprise successes on this record; amid its flurried use of polyrhythmic synths and head-in-the-clouds sonic landscapes, there's an overhwhelming, an d crucially pinned-down, homeward vibe to its orientation, and despuite all the distance the track covers, it's a humble and quite warming sensation to know it doesn't entirely lose itself amid the heights of its own curiosity.

But in conclusion, the main drawback here - and thus, the deciding factor on whether the listener will see this album through to the end - on Dreaming In Key is its indecisiveness and its lack in conviction. While the album manages to keep its sound at a steady, approachable, and logical length of time, for an album whereby its shortest track is just a shade under five minutes, it's clear that both concentration and intrigue in the layers hidden underneath the trickery and treats of Applescal's open sound, are required at full capacity. While there are indeed moments on here where the Dutchman proves he can borrow from established sub-genres and nestle them firmly into his hazy palette of analog and digitized tones alike, there's no preventing the humane uncertainty in how to keep the album flowing nicely as one, from surfacing. Nevertheless, for anyone recently intrigued by what Ulrich Schnauss or TEED have offered us, perhaps this is right up your long-sighted, less-deciphered alley.

7.2



 Psychic Ills - One Track Mind

The New York trio's forth studio album One Track Mind - and second for the respect-gaining feed-following Sacred Bones label - sees the band continue to blur the lines between indie-branded guitar rock, withdrawn psychedelic and space rock, as well as all the experimental desires for exploration and discovery aligning the genre's outer perimeters. 2013, however, finds the band rather than traversing the many long-and-winding roads of backyard America and further afield continental World music, Psychic Ills on this record however, appear rather static and motionless - not out of ill-advised confusion or uncertainty, but rather as a necessity; a personal choice, a divisive stance looking forward, and ultimately, as the album quickly admits to its listener, a costly error in judgement.

Tracks like One More Time & See You There do, despite all erroneous judgement, stir my interest in their steady, but measured sense of rhythm and melody regarding the use of guitars (strumming and string-plucking alike) and lead vocalist Tres Warren's momentum-led passage of lyrics. The band do receive some respect and credit for the way they find a reasonable meeting point for the weighty guitars and dusty-road sailing of percussion and backdrop sounds alike, but as you gradually progress through the album, you'll undoubtedly be quick to point out what it is that sets this record back such a considerable length as opposed to other records in this same musical/contextual field. And it's fault, is it's diversity, or lack of it as is clearly apparent here. No matter if it's the third track or the third-from-last, there's no getting away from the band's repetitive, confining focus on electric guitars and slow(er) pacing in their music. It becomes less a psychedelic-meets-experimental-meet-space exploration, and more just a get-together in replicating American rock  - that has already passed some twenty, thirty years previous - for the sake of appearance.

Subject matter on moments such as FBI do lift the mood, and showcase the band's lesser stern approach on giving rhythm and momentum the highest priority. Likewise, City Sun offers a sense of Ills stripping back their palette - guitars more acoustic-orientated and bare-boned; vocals coming off honestly expressed and illustrative - and Western Metaphor offers the complete opposite and shows Ills truly reaching for the far reaches of space in its Neu-like relaying of guitar feedback and looping percussion textures - followed soon-after with great pleasure, by Drop Out's dusty kaleidoscopic awakening of guitar texture and tones that are much more livelier and full of character. And in these brief moments, a glimmer of hope slowly surfacing, Psychic Ills sound like a band with one less monkey sitting atop their collective shoulder. But unfortunately, there's even more to suggest the well of creativity on One Track Mind was both running dry, and/or wasn't even added to. When - as it's clear to both see and hear - the end-products are just imitatations of the same structure and the same means of getting from A to B, ironically fitting, the album title doesn't do anyone - artist and listener alike - any justice.

5.4


 Matmos - The Marriage Of True Minds

To say electronic senior's Matmos certainly snake their way around many a musical identity on the duo's first [solo] release in five years, would be an understatement measured, quite rightfully, by the album The Marriage Of True Minds' diverse catalog of musical aesthetics. Starting with the icy withdrawn enclosure of You, the album is as much a modest exploration to the very concept of composition, as it is a frightfully forward and evident shock to anybody's system. Where Matmos begin with sweeping piano keys, scrunched-up minimums of percussion and a beat that lays claim to more a downtempo environment, the album soon descends into what has become the San Francisco duo's signature methodology in acquiring source material and using to immense effect on their records.

But it's the more avant-garde experimentations - so too the limitations of instruments as layers and more as this sweeping suggestiveness and flickered, disjointedness - that stands as the backbone to The Marriage Of True Minds. Whether it be the isolated-turned-halloween horror-show of Very Large Green Triangles that soon follows, or the brisk muddy jungle trawl of Mental Radio thereafter, Matmos demonstrate their awareness for the acute qualities to less-than-conventional sound material and use the lack of traditional instrumentation and rhythmic electronics to conjure an atmosphere switching from one extreme to the next through each passing piece of music. It's rather fitting then, that the track lengths gradually decrease as you make your way through this album, only for them to gain length again and repeat the pattern in the opposing direction. Whether coincidental or not, the juxtapositions of each song, regardless of how bizarre, surreal or outright confusing the listener will perceive them as, Matmos somehow manage to make the most of these time constraints and - perhaps through some incomplete need for this to carry on or either stand as truly developed and fulfilled - lead its listener onto the next track wanting more of the same, but knowing full well that's unlikely to occur.

The unpredictability in the album's direction is what makes it a worthy listen-through. Fueled by each track's ambition to study its surroundings and use even that to project itself, makes tracks like Teen Paranormal Romance or Tunnel stand out as intriguing fusions of electronic rhythms and less-conventional instrument palettes, as much as they compel the listener's perspective and increasing attempt to uncover every single component that makes these tracks so multidimensional. But even when Matmos strip back their confident strides and revert to purely electronic-orientated compositions and means of production, tracks like Aetheric Vehicle provide as much an earthly eery surrounding, as much as they maintain a sense of rhythm and, surprisingly, a rich pairing of melody and beats alike. While I do feel the record ends way too soon, given how wide a scope and varied a palette Matmos incline to both demonstrate as well as use on The Marriage Of True Minds, its nine-track less-is-more approach does offer some interesting insights into electronic music given a well-sought, and deservedly praised, avant-garde tint. And beyond that, when the sounds are familiarly acoustic, percussive, or even electronic in nature, Matmos still offer enough evidence to prove that the duo can still craft compelling hooks, alongside music that is, to put in simple terms, compelling in a rudimentary nature.

7.8

 
 PVT - Homosapien

The Australian three-piece formally known as Pivot, release their forth studio album and third under the shortened all-capitals alias. Homosapien makes it out to be more the personal and personally-reflecting offering of their discography, the band's use of synthesizer arpeggios and minimal clusters of sound suggesting that it's character and persona that lies at the heart of this album's intended projection. Opening track Shiver certainly alludes to that feeling with its lead, bustled synthesizer, later added to by lead vocalist Richard Pike's crooning vocoder mixing minimal and soul into the formula. Evolution picks up the pace and attempts its hand at more upbeat synthpop carriages of rhythm and momentum, and while the electronic's blushed textures and tumbling percussion offers a far more intriguing palette in PVT's sound, the music as a whole comes off rather underwhelming and, more likely in its addressing, unfinished to some extent.

PVT's sound on this album, as is the case with the opening pair of tracks, demonstrates that the Aussie three-piece are a rock band with electric intentions, and though their interested dash between sub-genres does leave many questions unanswered, the comforting rawness in the band's rock leanings offers, at the very least, some much-needed energy and musical lust to Pike's mild-mannered low-key shunning of the light. But even with this, listening to a track like Cold Romance and how it remains irrefutably confined to the same low-key minimal passage of dubbed beats and dark-room gatherings, you begin to question just whether or not the band have seriously thought this through and, more importantly, are heading in the right aesthetic direction in their music. Pike's voice, surprisingly, is what saves moments such as these from being shelved only to collect dust - vocals richer and enticed by the track's opposing murmur and limitation of projection. But the truth of the matter (as far as the music as a whole goes), is that even though tracks like Love & Defeat will remind some of Depeche Mode at the height of their abilities, or moments such as those on Nightfall undoubtedly will increase many a listener's longing to hear The Knife's overdue return to the forefront of contemporary electronic music, PVT stand simply as a band who are clearly fans of these styles, but show very little to suggest this is anything other than mimicry and fan-favorite fascination.

And approaching the closing moments on an album that should be as much about independence and identity, as it is a homage to those that have come before it, you get the feeling PVT aren't one to entice their fanbase to look to the future. Whether that be New Morning's shamefully amateurish use of percussive hits and Pike's repeated less-convened placement of vocals, or on closer Ziggurat's attempt at a neo-classical swirl of electronic colour and sugar-coated textures, there's little to appease both established fans and those curious whether they will be after hearing the album in its entirety. Once more it's a case of there being an idea but no development; a back-bone but no body with which it's meant to support. Though content and modestly comforting PVT's sounds are on Homosapien, without any real clear-cut identity or spark of life, the majority of the three-piece's offerings here, come off as little more than stale jam sessions. Or should that be, stale button-pressing sessions?

4.7



 Inc. - No World

New to the 4AD catalog are RnB electronic brothers Andrew and Daniel Aged, better known by their stage-name, Inc. Their debut LP [under the name Inc.] No World tempts fate - theirs and their record label's likewise - by approaching rhythm and blues in a soft, gentle...but more crucially, a time-rewinding step-back to early 80's midtown grooves and less-energized sailings of beats and guitar-strummed instrumentation. Anyone who walked away from Tom Krell's brilliant 2012 perception of RnB - emphasizing the 'blues' part as much he encompassed the 'rhythm' components just-as-immensely - and longed for similar self-investigative discoveries of RnB's forgotten touch...on the outside, this looks to be the perfect album to answer such a call. But while opening track The Place is a fairly satisfactory hush-hush into the album - finger clicks, bobbled percussion and distant vocals all providing equal amounts of emotion and withdrawal - following track Black Wings offers Inc. the opportunity to work to more acoustic lacings of aged string leads and centralized percussion hits. And it's here that the album really, perhaps deservedly, begins to show its true colours.

But like all great RnB records, it's the vocals that stand the greatest test, and fortunately Inc's equivalence in lyrical form while not the most clear or perhaps the most engaging with its listener, still adds some enriching character to the album's deliberately limited variance on percussion and patterned beat-matching. Admittedly, the middle part of the album doesn't offer as much an emotive scaling as the album's opening and ending sections manage to sustain, but at least on a track like Trust (Hell Below), there's a clear sense of confidence and understanding growing in Inc's state-of-mind, and the way the instrumentation feels more open and engrossing than previous offerings, suggests the duo know how to shape their sound to proportionately greater surroundings. It may not all be emotionally gripping or captivating, but at least for the music and sound aesthetic side of things, the bold, bullish mix of drums and latter percussion comes across as if both gladly fighting its own corner and willing too to stand on its own two feet.

My only wish, and most likely the wish of fellow listeners, is that Inc. would focus more on the other side(s) to their instrumental usage. While Angel does some justice in gelling vocals and percussion together, the remaining offering of gospel-like harmonies and shuddering synth lines does give hints as to there being more here that the track could offer, but doesn't. As a result, the music feels limited and blindly faithful to letting the drum work drive the music - instruments such as guitars left somewhat to the side; drifting in and out of the forefront and given less an engagement than other layers are. When the duo mix things up rhythmically regarding the track's tempo and build towards the end, as is the case with Seventeen, there's definitely a sign of improvement and hints as to Inc's lenience into other genres altogether. The track's more upfront and shifting drum pattern is what drives the music, and though the remaining sounds do come off fairly lost and ignored because of it, the greater reward of the piece is that it gives an insight, perhaps, into new avenues the duo are already taking. And as the album closes with the last of the full-length tracks in the form of Careful, there's no love lost for giving vocals a their richly deserved swooning texture and emotionally forward reach across the planes of culminated drum beats and rustled percussion that continues to drive the music on. All in all though, this is a solid foundation for Inc. to move on from; providing both a glimpsed exploration of emotion and melody in itself, but above all - much like a recent favorite of mine last year - proves that there's no great rhythm, without some great blues to tag neatly on beside it.

7.4 

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