!!!, "Louden Up Now"
Touch and Go (US) /
After blazing the trail for a cavalcade of indie dance-punk imitators with 2000's debut, the bi-coastal ensemble of !!! have only just now released a follow-up. It's been a long four years, especially in terms of dance music and in the political climate, but with Louden Up Now, !!! have impressively bounced back from their recording lull with a masterful album. The title's imperative, followed by the group name's triple-shot of aggressive punctuation, conveys a forcefulness and urgency wholly appropriate to the agitated, edgy material on the album. Though the cover art displays an innocuous bright blue sky filled with overlapping jet streams of exclamation points, the album itself is intensely political, violently so. Perhaps !!! are encouraging us to louden our dissenting voices (or louden our dissenting music) until it fills the sky. In our current dystopian state of moralism, civil rights-backsliding and imperialist wars, it's unclear how a set of expletive-filled provocations to "pump up the volume and dance" can help, but that doesn't stop vocalist Nic Offer from trying. "U can tell the president 2 suck my fucking dick" and "all U fucking squares better say your fucking prayers" are among some of the colorful metaphors employed in the lyrics, which shout down Bush, Blair, Giuliani, Christianity and censorship with equal zeal. The music is densely produced, with smoother edges than their previous work. It henceforth has less of a live feel than the first album, with many elements sounding decidedly more synthetic. That said, I recently saw them play some of this material live, and they pull it off quite well without the use of a pre-programmed laptop. !!! continue to incorporate the richly detailed dub-influenced sound of their sister band Out Hud, while still maintaining a jagged dissonance distinctly their own. Other than the "Giuliani" single, all of the tracks on Louden are new recordings, with "Shit Scheisse Merde" forming the 15-minute centerpiece, a three-part epic that travels from super-sexualized Prince-influenced funk to the very heights of Giorgio Moroder disco to the Dionysian depths of drugged-out club music. It's an incredibly decadent sound, the throbbing bassline riding along to the pulse of frenzied, adrenaline-pumped, sweat-drenched human dancing. Elsewhere on the album, Offer assures us that he doesn't "give a fuck" or "a shit about that motherfucking shit," but I don't believe it. I believe he cares deeply, as his vituperative, politically-charged lyrics prove. !!! believe that the oncoming revolution can and will be birthed in the ecstatic gyrations of dance culture, that true dissent can be nursed in darkness, and with the superlative Louden Up Now, they attempt to plant the first seed. - Jonathan Dean
Twilight Circus, "Dub from the Secret Vaults"
It was only seven years ago that then bassist/drummer of the Legendary Pink Dots, Ryan Moore, was premiering his Twilight Circus Dub Soundsystem in front of unsuspecting American LPD audiences. He was a long-haired joker prancing around on bass, with pocket theremin, and playing the drums along with hypnotic dub loops and saying whatever came to mind on the mic. ("Welcome to Gothic Jamaica!," "Give it up for the Monica Lewinsky chorus!," etc,...) In the time since, over ten albums of material have surfaced along with a handful of singles and collaborative projects. Moore has gone from being known for his comic antics as the primary rhythmatist of the Dots to one of the most critically acclaimed producers of authentic dub in the modern age. This recognition isn't unwarranted: none of the recordings as Twilight Circus is anything less than top-notch. Since the first release, 1995's In Dub, Vol. 1, the Twilight Circus Dub Soundsystem has been effectively paying tribute to the most basic dub that appeared on old 7" single b-sides emerging from Jamaica in the 1970s. Twilight Circus isn't and has never been some hybrid electronic software-based clickety mess bastardizing reggae beats so white journalists can herald it as the second coming of dub, Moore plays every instrument and produces a sound that has won him respect amongst the most knowledgable reggae and dub insiders worldwide. Moore is a talented producer and multi instrumentalist, and it's clear on every recording, whether the lead instrument is a guitar, deep organ, or melodica. The pinned-in-the-red thundering bass and echoed drums sound so beautiful along with every other instrument in the mix that it doesn't matter if Ryan's from Kingston or Vancouver. Moore's history stretches back to the 1980s where he was a session musician in Vancouver, eventually hooking up with Nettwerk, the Tear Garden and other Skinny Puppy offshoots, and joining the Legendary Pink Dots as a drummer, bassist and guitarist in 1991. It's no wonder that the guy has accumulated a massive amount of gear over the years and knows his way around a studio amazingly well. On this, his first release for the legendary dub/punk/cassette label ROIR, Moore has collected his own unreleased music allegedly stretching back twenty years, including old cassette recordings. The collection lacks a bit of information, however, in terms of when and where each song is from. While tracks like the sparse "Bassie Dub I" (and II) sound muffled and warped like a fading old four-track cassette, it's sandwiched inbetween tracks "Slyy" and "Other Worlds of Dub," each of which sound mysteriously deeper, more refined, and modern than the dub I remember from the first Twilight Circus releases. I could be completely wrong in my assessment of tracks but I'm sure there's a number of relatively new recordings included here. Dub from the Secret Vaults is a great collection to introduce new audiences to Moore's Sounsystem as ROIR will probably be able to hit more shops than M Records could have. Tastefully, there's no overlap with other TC recordings so it's also good for existing fans. I'm personally anxious to see where Moore's going as he's currently working with new people and releasing a number of 7" records on his new imprint, Fleximix. (It's worth noting that images of his gear, friends and collaborators, and links to some of his favorite dub resources can be found at his own website, twilightcircus.com.) Dub from the Secret Vaults is hopefully the first of a number of Twilight Circus releases ROIR will make widely available for the rest of us. - Jon Whitney
The Legendary Pink Dots, "Crushed Mementos"
Plinkity Plonk (via Kormplastics)
Longtime friend and fan of the Legendary Pink Dots, Freek Kinkelaar has tastefully tied up some loose ends with this five-track collection. These tracks represent a looser, more experimental sound that the Dots would, most likely due to their length, leave them on cassette compilations rather than include them on their vinyl LPs. "The Puncline" is a rarity few people have heard, first released back in 1983 on a legitimate Italian cassette-only various artsits collection called The Voice, in a limited edition of 300 copies, later to be collected on the unofficial Italian cassette-only LPD compilation, Fragments 1. "Close Your Eyes, You Can Be a Space Captain" has appeared in a few places, but this 11+ minute version was the one from 1983 originally found on Volume Three of the infamous Rising from the Red Sand tapes from Third Mind. "The People Tree" is a personal favorite, as this sound-effects laden 23+ minute piece only graced side two of LPD's Traumstadt 4. Here, loud jet engines and alien synth drips like the more trippy interludes of some of the early Tear Garden stuff, while demented audio washes battle loudness and silence in an almost tribute-like fashion to Nurse With Wound's Homotopy To Marie, primitive electronics mimic early video games, and quirky instrumental keyboard melodies couldn't be mistaken for anybody other than the Dots. It irked me when side a ("Premonition 18") surfaced on Stained Glass Soma Fountains without "The People Tree," so this track is warmly welcomed by me to finally be available on CD. The brief (98 second) track "March" was the only exclusive track on the Dots on the Eyes LPD cassette-only compilation from 1981 so its inclusion ties up that loose end, while the 30 minute "Premonition 15" appeared on the Zamizdat Trade Journal, originally released in 1986, but opens the door to a couple more tracks still unavailable. "Premonition 15" starts off with a lot of unexpected guitar work, eventually mixing in the violin bits from "The Lovers (Part two)" along with other early LPD tunes here and there on top of other sound effects and aural tampering. Be warned that these recordings are not the original master recordings painstakingly restored to some super high fidelity, but recordings that weren't great to begin with, and Raymond Steeg has done a find job of getting them at least sound as good as they could have on the original tape releases. The packaging is tasteful but somewhat flimsy and needs to be cared for very cautiously. I'm not displeased in the least. Crushed Memories is one of the gems for fans at the merch table for this tour as the disc is nearly impossible to find in any store. - Jon Whitney
Valerio Tricoli, "Did They? Did I?"
Though he probably received more recognition last year for his production work on Dean Roberts' breathtaking Be Mine Tonight, Valerio Tricoli was also busy creating one of the more substantial musique concrčte works I've heard in quite a while. The title alone should transmit the charm and the wayward beauty of this piece, its questions projecting both the violence of discovery and the resigned, rhetorical penance of shame and acceptance. Tricoli's music becomes the missing thought dots between these two inquisitives, a journey of self-reflection and detachment. Revealingly, a three-dotted reply was all that I, at least, could utter after sitting with the disc's 40+ minutes (advertised as only 19, another of Tricoli's warping tactics, anything but playful). The artist works outside of the hyper-lyrical or hyper-visceral styles that seem to dominate concrčte practice these days; his removed approach places the music within memory's shadowy domain, distanced but strangely present, like a déją vu experience. This is not audio-surrealism per say, but something more somber and gratingly nostalgic. The disc's first section could begin in the room of some shaky continental hotel, slowly and secretly colored in with disembodied hallway voices and the abrupt activity of antique door latches. The voices will continue throughout the piece, contributing more to a regenerating wave of commotion than any kind of foundation, thematic or at all grounding. The music rides this wave as aboard a virtual history of meaningless conversation, essential white noise against which all that is individual or discernable in the piece must be measured. There is certainly an individual, very human presence in this work, but one that seems always hidden, revealing itself gingerly though the segmented, even lush sounds of rustling and light knocking spaced across the whole. Tricoli also attaches some of his inventive melodic hesitations at points during the disc, via bell tones and steady, thin drones, shifting certain moments into sudden dramatic relief, as if caught in a cinematic lens. Did They? Did I? stays very much outside the listening space; this music enacts a quiet and impossible ambiance, capturing those subtle, telling degrees by which our memory is bound. It rises to shock only when cool and deceptive recovery is within reach and reveals only for seconds anything that could be called recognizable.
- Andrew Culler
Thomas Brinkmann, "Tokyo + 1"
My first exposure to the music of Thomas Brinkmann came in 1999 when I purchased the Adria/Blind split remix 12" done for Force Inc. with notorious sound pirate Scanner. Anyone familiar with that understated meeting of great minimal techno minds will surely appreciate what Brinkmann has to offer with his latest release on the quirky Max Ernst label. Although the press release for Tokyo + 1 details a kind of pretentious, quasi-academic take on the album typically found in pieces that incorporate field recordings, the actual liner notes in the booklet are stripped of any such context with only a brief mention of the multinational sound source origins, allowing casual listeners to appreciate the nine tracks here on their own terms. Considering that this is a Thomas Brinkmann album, a respectable level of experimentation and creativity is applied to both the sound art collage pieces as well as the more conventional dancier tracks, achieving an admirable balance. "109 Competition" lumps together snippets and loops from what sounds like a Tokyo arcade into a chaotic yet surprisingly rhythmic mix of simulated laser gunfire, dance-pop video games, conversational chatter, and a Ja Rule/Ashanti duet. While that may not seem like the most "musical" stew to the uninitiated, this solid embodiment of pop culture plunderphonics will delight found sound and difficult listening fanatics. The pleasant tech-house ditty "3 st 2 Shinjuku" somewhat recalls Brinkmann's work as Soul Center though it maintains a proud otherness with some unexpected sample of the Pokemon character Pikachu. "Love Song" offers the most gratifying result of Brinkmann's work here, with crashing waves of unruly noise combating against, submitting to, and merging with a dark stompy beat that would receive a warm dancefloor welcome in the bowels of a warehouse rave. While many techno-savvy geeks might currently be salivating over the Brinkmann mixed Tour De Traum compilation, the less accessible yet thoroughly satisfying Tokyo +1 should not be overlooked. - Gary Suarez
The New Year, "The End is Near"
Touch and Go
The New Year crafts songs that hover in the space between thoughtful consideration and expression. It is the music of anticipation and patient contemplation, a flurry of intention and fervor just a quantum leap away from coalescing into a deluge of expression. This moment of impeccable meaning is fraught with dusky reserve, held close only to emerge as snippets of melody and song. On their second release (not including the Kadane brothers Bedhead experience, of which The New Year is an evolution of), the band dwells in extremely familiar territory, their slow core roots dug deep and spread wide. The opening track, "The End is Not Near" is shocking, not in that the song is a departure or dynamic leap from the band's sound, but in that it sounds frightfully like Elliot Smith singing from the great beyond. Once this is reconciled, the song is actually a highlight of the album, a touching tribute in sound and concept to the late songwriter and a feather in the cap of the album. "Chinese Handcuffs" strikes a comfortable balance between the neat structure of the song and the shimmering elaboration of that structure through a delightfully dexterous melody. When the melody lurches upward, it pulls the whole song along with it. "Disease" builds from an aloof, meditative melody into a full-blown cascade of clattering guitars, reverberating off the inside of the skull and drifting into a dreamlike ambiance, with the vocals slipping just beneath the mix and subtly etching an impression on the mind. Here, as on "Chinese Handcuffs," the distinct guitar melodies of the songs elevate them beyond the simple sedate skeletons that are duly constructed by the laconic singing and delicate accompaniment. The New Year drifts through their songs with an even-keeled temperment that is occasionally too sleepy for its own good. Several tracks, like the opener, manage to explore this delicate, patient space with an element of control and direction. Songs like "Stranger to Kindness," however, simply feel adrift, as if the component pieces are slipping away from one another. The End is Near is a competent work with several moments of superb songcraft that is sadly connected by loose ends and slack lines. - Michael Patrick Brady
Jucifer, "War Birds"
The guy who told me about this EP described the vocals as being "sweet"; at first, I figured that meant that the singer either had a distractingly pretty voice or went the hack-pop-vocalist route and tried to affect one by warbling a lot. Thankfully, that's not the case, so when the heaviosity kicks in (all of 30 seconds into the first track), there aren't any stinky reminders of bad goth rockers who thought that having a girl on the mic and bloodied angels on their album covers would add layers of Biblical resonance. There's just a sound somewhere between overdubbed soupy goodness and the hazy, late-night tranquility of a conversation with a good friend. The friend is thoughtful, and tempo changes abound: not in a chop-waggling way, but to let the conversation drift through slo-mo headbanging territory, ratchet into an even slower gear with just a glimpse of apprehension preceding the thud of each beat. It lurches into motion just long enough to get the blood pumping before the instruments fall away from a quiet, nodding vocal revelation. (There are lots of pauses for breath and reflection in this conversation.) Socially engaged where other clever bands prefer to wallow in cotton-eared eclecticism, Jucifer also sums up what's beautiful and good about the South on "My Stars," stacking all of the badness that the Bush administration and its war birds can muster against a simple, pretty plucked guitar melody and a dignified story of innocence and ideals being chipped away by grade school, forty years of ugly politics, and a stubborn refusal to stand for anything. And then it ends, and forty-six minutes of crickets leave you to stew in your thoughts. This is what makes close friendships worth as much as they are. - Taylor McLaren
Highspire, "Your Everything"
The squeals and other damage that open this debut are a perfect indication of the whole experience that awaits, and the wall of sound guitars and other effects just add to the splendor inside. Hailing from Philadelphia, Highspire have taken their time with this record, starting recording in 2000 and just now getting around to releasing it. The extra work shows and pays off, as even though there is some fluff here and there this is a polished thirteen tracks that use dreamscape influence to its fullest extent. The band rarely gets dragged down in the mud, instead incorporating whatever tricks they can to elevate the proceedings, and still instill variety. To shift from the expansive but measured first track to the acoustic guitar and keyboard violin of the second isn't a smooth transition, but it works somehow, especially when the distorted and delayed guitar make a subversive re-entrance. They've backed off slightly, allowing the nuances in the strumming and the faux strings to overtake the speakers. Words are not as important, either, seeming more as an after thought to the music, which carries the majority of the meaning through the melody. In fact, the atmosphere that is created by the different tones and background vocals alone could carry most of these songs, not that the lead vocals are at all obtrusive. It just sounds carefully controlled, as though the compositions were started out of improvisation, but locked down once born. Every note is planned, every emotion is created to illicit a prescribed response. No matter. It's still magical, and when all the pieces came together, it pulled me in and hasn't let go. - Rob Devlin
Oceansize have had some very lofty comparisons assigned to them in their young careers, and their stunning debut full-length shows exactly why they're appropriate and warranted while still providing for a very original take on epic and destructive rock. Absorbing the album in its entirety is not only recommended, it's somewhat required, as seconds into it the sounds will prevent turning the music off or down. Theirs is a serpentine, tentacled organism, splattered with blood and full of color, inviting while it can kill in an instant. It is an old but still clever deception: lure with the quietest moment, then strike before the victim has any idea what has happened or what the true nature or power of the attack is. The three-guitar assault, the ethereal keyboard passages, the tight tour-educated sound are perfect for this brand of murder, and Oceansize have studied their passion well. They are not vain, as they leave their grand largesse on full display, not cutting or splicing the fat to make for a leaner listen. The first moments of the album reminded me of plenty of bands I have seen in small clubs, unaware of their appeal, desperate in their need to impress. The difference is that this band does, and when the quiet gives way for the brutality, I was unafraid. Then the true space ride begins, and the assurances that have built up from a life of caring are decimated one by one. "Nobody ever said they'd love you forever" and "one day all this could be yours" are the dream and the realization of Tyler Durden in separate verses: there is no success, there is no accomplishment, there is only the lasting disappointment. The trick is to make it sound inviting. Oceansize accomplish that and more. The roller coaster ride they induce is to be marvelled over, that in this day and age of worthless garbage being released day after day, there is a band that is capable of absorbing influences and creating a music that can make the blood boil again. Where others have held that claim, and even had it quoted in songs on their record, it's been a long time since it beared any weight. I submit that it can, and does, with this album. - Rob Devlin
City Centre Offices
Even if this had been released four years ago (when Uwe Zahn was on top of his game) I would not be impressed. From his earliest releases on the Din label, Uwe Zahn created a kind of electronic music that rivaled the beauty and multiplicity of other well-known composers of the time. His formula has been and still is simple: write great melodies, add great harmonies, and layer them over manifold rhythms crafted out of crystal, glass, and metal timbres. Whereas this formula served as the basis for the excellent Atol Scrap and Tides before, it has somehow degraded into the elementary and overly-naļve Lilies, now. There are wonderous moments to be found in the melodies still and the rhythms retain their deceptively simple groove, but for some reason they don't mesh as well as they have in the past. It's as though Arovane has become too simple, too brief, and suddenly concerned with the mortal. Past endeavours were not only beautiful, but they sounded timeless; it was as though time were standing still for Arovane and his music. The opening "Ten Hours" negates that magical power somehow and each of the songs following it only put Lilies in a further definite place and time. On the plus side, Zahn still sounds more in control of his work than any of his contemporaries do. Whether or not I like it, Lilies sounds like a concentrated effort, fully shaped by its creator. "Instant Gods Out of the Box" is an excellent example of how electronic music can still look to its roots without being frozen in them and without diving into the realm of pure academic vomit. "Pink Lilies" features gorgeous vocals over a rolling and dynamic interplay between bass, percussion, and keyboard melody. It's a prime example of how to mix traditional vocals with the synthetic sound of computer composition. Zahn's sound hasn't changed drastically in the last few years, but his writing has slipped noticably away from the confrontational or exuberant. Maybe this is because it all sounds a bit derivative or maybe it's just because Lilies sounds like such an innocent and childlike record. Where Atol Scrap blew me away with its effort to escape into the stratosphere, Lilies sounds disappointingly terrestrial. The closing "Good Bye Forever" only reminds me of my mortal body, my absurd tasks, and my inability to be truly timeless. This isn't a terrible record, but I don't find myself reaching for it like I have for past Arovane albums. That isn't too say that Arovane is behind his contemporaries, either: I'm still more fond of and taken by his work than I am by certain "grade-Ae" manipulators who have found it necessary to make records for engineers and professors instead of music-lovers.- Lucas Schleicher
Kontakt der JÜnglinge, "FrÜhruin"
Asmus Tietchens and Thomas Köner exercise a collective marketing genius with their decision to end a fruitful collaborative series in brute, anticlimactic style, issuing this limited, (naturally) expensive box meant to house the duo's previous four discs. Such closure is especially disappointing as it arrives just behind last year's n, Kontakt der Jünglinge's most dense and engrossing work to date, a haunting deepspace symphony of icy gleam and relentless sprawl, one of my late-year favorites. For that disc the artists' very individual sensibilities seemed to work side-by-side with a precision both beautiful and terrible, for the potent, near-epic quality of the dislocation induced by the music. The fusion of n marked considerable progression from the past three discs which, while certainly worthwhile, never quite rose above their realities, essentially gallery-space improvs with pieces forming around an elaborate cut-and-paste of Köner's expansive drones, dark field captures, and Tietchens' industrial ambiance. Recorded live in Amsterdam in 2002, n left me with the hope that I need not shell out for another of Köner's indigestible double-disc drone opuses, or feel pressured into Die Stadt's 18-strong Tietchens reissue campaign, the hope that I might be duly satisfied by the next Kontakt der Jünglinge disc, sure to be even better than the last. This hope is no more. If, in the very least, Frühruin is an attempt to make up for the ascetic packaging of the first four discs, it fails. Offering little more than stiffer, glossier cardboard and different dimensions, the box mirrors the information-less design of it intended contents, without a photo, a trace of supplemental artwork, or any kind of text statement from the typically silent musicians. The enclosed 3" disc likewise does little to justify such a costly shelving unit. Lacking any of n's new grandeur, the 15-min., two-track disc is a useless, uneventful, and embarrassingly short document that struggles to rival the weaker moments of the duo's weaker releases. For completists looking to consolidate the flimsy slipcases of the first four discs Frühruin might be an inevitability, but it is still a shock that not even a full-length disc could have been included, especially given the prolific nature of both artists. If somehow I am wrong in assuming that this box marks the end of Köner's and Tietchens' collaboration, then it becomes an even more meaningless gesture.
- Andrew Culler
Vast Aire, "Look Mom... No Hands"
Damn you, second CD by a well-known-by-music-geeks artist. You've just reminded me of a simple but harsh truth: those debut CDs that music geeks love so much are often the product of years of music-writing experience, filtered through a trusted collaborator's sense of what is actually worth releasing. Second CDs, unfortunately, often aren't. The Cold Vein might be almost three years old, but this solo debut doesn't give the impression that Vast has had enough time to completely recharge his batteries. "You ain't nobody, and when I'm done with this rhyme, you'll have no body" might just be a warm-up line from the intro track, but it's a taste of what follows in the Disappointing Lyrics department. There's an awful lot of you-suck-and-I'm-gettin'-with-your-girl generica clogging up the works this time out, and it's not always covered up by the man's better-than-average delivery. The dozen-plus producers that provide beats for the disc's 17 tracks and change manage to camouflage lazy lyrics from time to time, but they make the album feel like a five-thumbed glove just as often. Nasa's wailing and buzzing backdrop to "Candid Cam," coupled with Karniege's presence on the chorus, turns a couple of check-my-kung-fu-and-show-respect verses into a genuine highlight of the disc. MF Doom's saloon pianos and grilled-cheese similes give Vast room to be playful between a pair of darker street stories; unfortunately, they're also surrounded by Sadat X being sexy, an anemic Blueprint contribution, a couple of Madlib beats that never quite connect with the vocals, and some sad attempts at recreating the vulnerability of "The F-Word" over sickly-sweet R&B numbers. And... (!) there's a pointless track-and-a-half continuation of the pissing contest with the Demigodz crew, hooray. It sucked when El-P shoehorned "We're Famous" into the middle of the last Aesop Rock disc; "9 Lashes (When Michael Smacks Lucifer)" and "A.S.C.F.D." continue the humourless groove, making Esoteric's free-download clowning shine that much brighter in the process. As the iTunes Music Store & Co. make the rebirth of a market for singles seem more and more likely, I sort of wish that somebody at Chocolate Industries had thought to put out Look Ma... as a half-dozen good 12"s (or their online equivalent) instead of unloading this mixed-bag of an album on my expectations. Maybe next time? - Taylor McLaren
Kid Spatula, "Meast"
Question: What could be worse than a CD comprised entirely of boring old side-project material never before deemed worthy of release? Answer: Two CDs of boring old side-project material never before deemed worthy of release. Unfortunately, that painfully true witticism only scratches the surface of just how wholly disappointing the latest Kid Spatula (aka µ-Ziq) album truly is. To put it even more bluntly, Meast is Mike Paradinas' Drukqs, a meandering double disc journey through the foul dregs of his proverbial cutting room floor. Regular readers of my snide contributions here in The Brain might recall my favorable and at times glowing review of the last µ-Ziq album, so rest assured that this vitriolic reaction comes from someone who regularly enjoys Paradinas's music. Haphazardly throwing together previously unavailable tracks from 1994-1998 in a way that would make even Richard D. James blush hardly makes for enjoyable listening, let alone reviewing. My respect for Paradinas' already available work during this time period (which includes In Pine Effect and Lunatic Harness) made it all the more difficult to sit through this bland, unbalanced and all-in-all uninteresting affair. A significant number of tracks sound like incomplete sketches and abandoned ideas that should have either been worked on further or abandoned altogether. The peppy childlike melodies of "Trike" repeat without moving the song in any direction worth noting, cutting off its potential less than halfway through. "Local Jogger" opens with a gorgeous mesh of synth patches that quickly takes a trip downhill into a kind of kitschy pseudo 70's TV theme song nostalgia. Though it may sound unreasonably harsh, the content of the entire second disc could have been left off without much quality being lost, save for the opening electro-hop cut "Sad & Solid." Only one track managed to extract any enthusiasm on my part: "Housewife" combines synth guitar goofiness and a naughtily recorded personal ad over a funky dance groove for a result that warrants repeated listening. Though I imagine they already own Meast, even Paradinas and Planet µ completists would do well to avoid or ignore this dismal effort from an electronic music legend. Anyone else still hungry for some good Paradinas work should snatch up the still-available Rephlex reissue of the classic Tango N' Vectif. - Gary Suarez
Try as I might, I can never come to an understanding of the fascination so many have with Christian Fennesz. His 2001 record, Endless Summer, never touched me in the same way it seemed to touch numerous critics and fans; even repeated listens could not cure the inertness I felt while listening to the music. Put simply: I've always found Fennesz's albums overrated and tame. That's why it came as a surprise to find Venice impressing me on some levels. As a whole the record drags on just as much as its predecessors have, but there are a few songs on the album that come out of left field and strike me to a degree that I could never have expected. The opener, "Rivers of Sand," is a pulsating work full of struggling chords and bereft melodies that disappear mysteriously only emerge triumphantly on the other end of death as some fizzling and hissing memory more powerful than before. The combination of highly-processed sound and near-pure flourishes resonates in a way that few other songs from this composer ever have. Between songs like "River of Sand" and "Circassian" are pieces that fail to evoke any happiness or intrigue in me. "City of Light" is a moaning exercise in patience that never touches on the promise of its title. While there is some peace to be found in the slowly morphing chords processed and reprocessed by Fennesz, there are few significant or lavish sounds that make continued listening a joy. Everything sounds like it is a little too perfectly in its place. Where Venice succeeds is in its more bare and acoustic moments. "Circassian" emenates an ebb and flow in the electronic realm that suggests wind-swept plains and ancient civilizations. But just below that ebb and flow is a distinct and gorgeous strumming, something for the present and familiar that sinks into my skin and makes the unknown an appreciable entity. "Laguna" works for the same reason - it's a track dominated entirely by an acoustic guitar, but with one mild and completely endearing electronic effect: a bad mic. If Fennesz is capable of melody and beauty as great as this, why he is concentrating on distortion and laptop trickery is beyond me. With the highlights safely out of the way, I can still express my confusion about Fennesz's supposed brilliance. There is no doubt in my mind that he is a gifted individual and that is capable of producing some excellent music, but the bulk of Venice suggests to me that he hasn't even begun to tap his abilities as a writer and performer. I have no doubt that this will be hailed as another incredible record and that fans everywhere will absolutely adore this record, but until Fennesz gets very experimental and takes a chance at a nearly unedited, unprocessed, acoustic record, I'll be getting my kicks elsewhere. - Lucas Schleicher
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