Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Newish albums: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly II

The Bad II: Apparat, "Walls". I don't understand why more producers these days seem to be influenced by Orbital's poppier, later phase (in particular "The Altogether", but perhaps to a greater extent the bright, optimistic bleepiness of "Middle of Nowhere") instead of their mellower, brooding, prog house peak phase ("In Sides", "Snivilisation"'s epic, paranoid world view ... even the Brown Album, although it was banging dancefloor stuff, is half euphoric, half something of a darker mood entirely). Apparat's "Walls" has followed me around for weeks -- on my iPod, various times of the day, as background music for a dinner party -- but for the most part it has failed to make a lasting impression. Its best function was the last of these -- it's a bridesmaid album, always in the background but rarely stands out in the foreground. Once in a while I was caught humming a tune or two, but it was always the grimier, Death In Vegas-y stuff like "Hailin From the Edge" or "Hold On". The more abstract tracks like "Fractales" are engaging and offer new twists with every listen, but for the most part I'm simply not amused by the album's relentless bouncy cheer. Ellen Allien brought some thump to this kind of material on last year's terrific "Orchestra of Bubbles" collab, but once most of the dancefloor elements are removed, my attention span vanishes along with them.

The (very, very) Good: Matthew Dear, "Asa Breed". His earlier vocal effort, "Leave Luck To Heaven", was a great idea in theory but not so much in execution. Vocals meandered on top of a Montreal minimal blueprint, and although the combination seemed fresh at the time, there wasn't any need for these two components to be stapled together. These songs didn't need vocals, they were simply there for the sake of being there, and on virtually every track the beat was the star and would have been improved had the singer simply stepped aside.

"Asa Breed", however, might be the first true minimal pop record. Artists like Luomo have received a lot of credit for bringing pop and soul into a largely stoic, mechanical genre (minimal techno) but Dear actually went out and made what is first and foremost a pop record. It so happens to be chock full of weird, warped, minimal elements. With an uncanny resemblance to late-70's Bowie, Dear's voice intones strange, twisted tales over funky minimal numbers like "Don and Sherri" and "Pom Pom" -- both of them being abrupt, three-minute pop gems. Darker corners and bizarre sounds abound in the album's freer, more experimental tracks ("Midnight Lovers", "Give Me More"), and the druggy blues of "Vine To Vine" finely accentuates the record's dark, cagey perspective.

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