Monday, June 21, 2010

B12, "Electro-Soma"; New Pornographers, "Together"

B12, "Electro-Soma"

It's somewhat inexplicable (as in, I have no good explanation for this, no way to possibly excuse myself) that I still have not heard every release in Warp's famed Artificial Intelligence series. For a long while, the list was only three: Polygon Window's "Surfing on Sine Waves" (still the best release of Richard James' career), Autechre's "Incunabula", and the final album in the series, the "Artificial Intelligence II" compilation. In my defense, I listened to these three albums all the freaking time. And I owned the "AI II" video on VHS!

A number of years later, I bought the first AI comp (far inferior to the second) and FUSE's "Dimension Intrusion" in second hand shops. I've never understood why the latter album was part of this series, seeing as it's far "clubbier" than the rest of the "bedroom techno" that Warp was trying to promote around that time. I also can't understand why I had bought so many other Richie Hawtin releases before getting around to buying this one.

After buying B12's "Electro-Soma", this leaves me with The Black Dog's "Bytes" and Speedy J's "Ginger" to complete the series. I've heard parts of both, and while I was never much of a Black Dog fan, I have about a zillion releases by Jochem Paap + his various aliases. So how and why not "Ginger"? What can I tell you, it's a mystery that can't be explained.

"Electro-Soma" and "Incunabula" would have been better off swapping titles. B12's album is the one that's constructed from techno's most basic building blocks, while Autechre's album is the electro-funk chillout album made by aliens. Even in 1993, I'm not sure that "Electro-Soma" offered many surprises, it's a solid album that does a remarkably faithful job of copying the best ideas of Detroit's first wave of techno artists, but it's not much more than that. It's a bit disappointing, although not as disappointing as the follow-up, "Time Tourist" (yeah, for maybe ten years I owned the follow-up to "Electro-Soma" but never owned or heard "Electro-Soma". I know, it defies logic and reason).

I'm sure that this point has been beaten into the ground by others, but even though Warp famously asked "are you sitting comfortably?" in the liner notes to the first AI comp, almost everything in the ensuing series was instantly and infectiously danceable except for Autechre and Polygon Window, so it's perhaps no surprise that those two ended up epitomizing IDM. Sure, it's possible to dance to those two albums (PW's "Quoth" still sneaks its way into some DJ sets even today) but the music is divorced from the usual vocabulary of dancefloor music, even in 2010, they sound foreign, other-worldly, nothing like conventional club music from any era.

New Pornographers, "Together"

I have no idea what all the complaining is about, "Together" is a fantastic album, better than anything they've done except for possibly "Mass Romantic". It seems that people are upset that the album doesn't "rock" enough. I guess it comes down to how much you liked the more wistful and introspective sound of "Challengers". Or whether you prefer to hear another 1000 re-writes of "Sing Me Spanish Techno" and "Letter From an Occupant". Don't get me wrong -- if any band could get away with repeating themselves ad infinitum, it's New Pornographers. They managed it over their first three albums (which all sounded exactly the same) and nobody complained. But "Together" might be the most hook-filled album of their career. They've already mastered bouncy power-pop, now they're mastering mid-tempo rock ballads -- listen to "My Shepherd" and try telling me that they've forgotten how to write a great chorus.

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