Friday, January 23, 2009

Autechre "Incunabula" (Warp Records, 1993)

Artist: Autechre
Album: "Incunabula"
Release Date: November 29, 1993
Genre: IDM, Experimental-Techno, Ambient-Techno
Mood: Trippy, Hypnotic, Quirky, Slick
Reminds Of: Aphex Twin, Plaid, Mouse On Mars, Boards Of Canada
What People Think: AllMusicGuide, AmazonUsersReviews
Definitely Worth Buying: CdUniverse, Amazon

1. Kalpol Introl
2. Bike
3. Autriche
4. Bronchus 2
5. Basscadet
6. Eggshell
7. Doctrine
8. Maetl
9. Windwind
10. Lowride
11. 444

Way back in 1993 and 1994, Warp Records released a series of albums under the "Artificial Intelligence" series that have all nearly gone on to be classics. One of these releases was Autechre's Incunabula, and although they've done some more experimental and fairly interesting work since then, this album will always be their benchmark. It's one of those rare electronic releases on which individual tracks all manage to sound different, yet the album has an amazing cohesive quality. Not only that, but it's one of the major releases that helped to spawn the whole "IDM" (Intelligent Dance Music) movement and propel Autechre into the spotlight.

Over the course of nearly 78 minutes, Sean Booth and Rob Brown take you to a world where machines rule, but instead of sounding harsh or industrial (except slightly for a couple moments), they draw you in even more with their delicate and overlapping sounds. It's a highly melodic trip through a warm bubblebath of electronic textures that will make you feel like assimilation with machines maybe isn't such a bad deal after all.

If you've seen the movie Pi, (and especially if you own the soundtrack), you've already heard the first song on this album entitled "Kalpol Intro." It's a moody, gurgling track that provides the perfect, short beginning that helps tickle your inner ear and lead you along and into the rest of the disc. Mixing seemlessly into the next track (as every song on the album does), the group gets things moving a little more with the track "Bike." After a shimmering opening part, it moves right along with a shuffling little beat and some seriously deep backend bass.

Basically, you're not going to go wrong with this disc if you like electronic music that isn't the run-of-the-mill dancefloor bilk. Whether the group is cranking out the awesome "Basscadet" (probably the most upbeat song on the album with a muffled kick drum and all kinds of blips and squeaks) or the slowly-progressing epic of "Windwind," nearly every single moment on this disc is interesting and changing. Although some of the noises used on the album sound a little dated, the arrangements of the actual songs themselves are timeless and the disc flows from beginning to end without nary a hitch.

It's moody, shimmering, and beautiful and quite possibly one of the best intelligent electronic music albums ever made. If you've heard newer material by Autechre and it's a little too cut up for you, don't write them off. Instead, head for this album and listen to it several times over. Play it loud on a good stereo or headphones and hear the subtle layers and textures. If I had to choose only 5 electronic albums to take to an island with me, this would be one of them. 


"The album's title is a Latin word, the plural of incunabulum, the term used for printed books published prior to 1501, or more generally for something in its infancy or early stages or development..."

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Kammerflimmer Kollektief "Cicadidae" (Staubgold, 2003)

Artist: Kammerflimmer Kollektief 
Album: "Cicadidae"
Release Date: April 14, 2003
Genre: Abstract, Neo-Classical, Chamber-Music, Post-Rock
Mood: Sophisticated, Autumnal, Fractured, Elegant
Reminds Of: Jaga Jazzist, Flanger, Triosk, The Cinematic Orchestra
What People Think: Discogs, Amazon
Definitely Worth Buying: Boomkat, Amazon, CdUniverse

1. Neumond Inselhin 
2. Sie Tranken Regen 
3. Über Die Wasserscheide 
4. Blood 
5. ...Denn Nacht Ist Jetzt Schon Bald! 
6. Sie Tranken Regen (Version) 
7. Mantra 
8. Eierdaunen (Gerupft) 
9. Irgendwann: Frühling 
10. There's A Weight On You, But You Can't Feel It 

Good electronic music should be a dissociating experience, taking you away from whatever you're doing without holding you captive to some narrative or tired verse-chorus-verse strong structure. It's about mood and the ability to spirit you out of mundane logics to hear the isolated beauty of pure sound and noise -- the creation of an active background soundscape that pokes and prods at your consciousness and never drowns it.

Which describes perfectly Kammerflimmer Kollektief's Cicadidae. At work, when I'm performing some dreary, repetitive task that requires a modicum of attention (but not much more), it's a perfect soundtrack. No single mood ever dominates and Cicadidae, the third release by the German six-piece, is by turns ominous, dreamy, driving and creepy. It is never boring or predictable.

In fact, for electronica -- a label that sells short the work's ability to cut across genres -- the range is striking. Opener "Neumond Inselhin" charges forward with a piano melody washed by synthesizers, and shuffling jazz beats aren't rare on the album. But most of the songs are less than directed, made up as they are of meandering fuzz and chirps and chimes.

The overall feeling is one of disembodied beauty -- the piano and droning guitars -- always on the verge of plunging into chaos and confusion, represented by some screeching free jazz elements. But while Thomas Webber, the man behind Kammerflimmer Kollektief, never loses control of the compositions, his restraint is never heavy-handed. The work has a light, airy quality.

All of this, plus the band's name, which translates to "Shimmering Collective," makes the work sound more academic than it is. In reality, Cicadidae is, quite simply, beautiful, evocative mood music that even in its defiance of genres is always focused and never extravagant. It's certainly worthy of place on the shelf next to Aphex Twin, Portishead and Phillip Glass.


After blowing me away with a debut release (that was largely the work of one man - Thomas Weber), the Kammerflimmer Kollektief disappointed me with each of their subsequent releases. Always one to give someone a second (or third) chance, I bided my time for the domestic release (it was released on Staubgold in Europe) of Cicadidae and settled in with the group once more. Once again, the sound of the group has changed somewhat, but this time it's for the better. Whereas the debut Mäander mixed sampled beats and a healthy dose of noise with some instrumentation, their second (Hysteria) and third (Incommunicado) were varying degrees of improvised and slightly deconstructed jazz that also found the one-man operation expanding into a full-fledged group.

Whereas those last two releases were simply too loose and rough around the edges to hold my attention much, Cicadidae really feels like the group coming together and working as a solid unit. In 10 tracks and just over 40 minutes, the release exudes a warm calm that works in subtle ways and actually seems to move in the exact opposite of their random noise freakouts of previous efforts. From the opening track of "Neumond Inselhin," it's clear that this is a different release from the group. An upright bass and very quiet percussion provide a thin skeleton on which quiet rises of strings, guitar melodies, and processed noise (including a slight harsh moment around the mid-point) and chimes ride. It's celestial electronic jazz, and it's one of the best tracks that the group has done to date.

Elsewhere, the group mixes a touch of spaghetti western in with their sound ("...Denn Nacht Ist Jetzt Schon Bald!"), slow-burning, dark lounge ("Blood"), and even a touch of dub ("Eiderdauned (Gerupft)"). As can probably be surmised from the above, the release is cinematic as all get-out. "Sie Tranken Regen (Version)" is all alternately quivering and hushed layers of strings and horns that slowly slink around one another and build into a haunting close while "Mantra" mixes some dusky piano and guitar into another slow-burner that pays off with a nice tension.

There are a lot of groups right now that are doing their own take on jazz and electronic music, but like Jaga Jazzist and the Tied And Tickled Trio, Kammerflimmer Kollektief is definitely carving out their own path. It's different than either of those groups, yet fans of either would probably find something to enjoy in this release (although it inhabits much quieter corners). As with other times a group has came back and surprised me after letting me down a bit, I'm glad I gave the group another chance. 


"The kind of music that makes the heart feel tangy beauty and longing captured in pristine simplicity, yet it has the noise and imperfections of the real world..."