Two Virginias, Two Discs of
Glitch-pop indie music, spurred by successes that achieved near ubiquitous popularity with cloyingly sentimental songs of love and loss, is everywhere now. The unstoppable juggernaut of smoothly polished, ignorably pleasant production and precious, instantly accessible vocals pours in from all sides. Neither North America nor Europe can shoulder all the blame; everyone is equally at fault, even Canada. It is because of this then that the resilience of the Electronic underground should be celebrated now more than ever. In the face of popular appropriation of their art form and the sudden real possibility of general acceptance, the true heart of electronic experimentation has stuck to its guns and continued to produce surprising, progressive music without any compromises. Whats better still is the fact that this music has started to come from entirely unexpected places. While large cosmopolitan cities (and all of Germany) continue to produce as much glitch and dark-noise as ever; smaller, unexpected locales are beginning to show off their own scenes, and the fresh perspectives coming out of these places are producing some great tracks. Like defiant mission statements, the Compilation CDs offered by Shepherdstown, West Virginias Magnanimous Records and Richmond, Virginias 804 Noise Collective show two very different young, experimental record labels doing some really interesting things. While the styles presented on the discs present different aspects of the progressive electronic spectrum they both show evidence of strong scenes with a strong sense of stylistic enterprise.
For the most part, the artists of the Magnanimous Records compilation stick to a palette of relatively organic sounds. Most tracks blend thick, open background harmonies with high end tones, blips and voices dancing in and out of the track. Noise washes and organic found sounds add texture, and what rhythms occur usually plod slowly from one texture to the next. The effect of this compositional mix is a more natural sound than most experimental electronic music, and while it stays away from instrumental post-rock diddling, it still evokes the same soundtrack feel that that music creates. With the obvious exception of a later track by D-ork, which stands out as a fairly standard low-key electronica track on an otherwise largely ambient collection, it seems as if the members of the Magnanimous crew have a singular stylistic vision. Indeed, the tracking on the disc is so smooth that if one didnt know better, the album would seem to be the work of one artist. This ends up being a very good thing. Rather than ending up largely forgettable but for a stand-out track our two, as most compilations turn out, the Magnanimous compilation ends up seeming like a single work; a purposeful body of music whose individual pieces are more complete as part of the whole. While the similarity in style and composition of these tracks has been emphasized, there are still a few among them that can be identified as exceptional examples. Ligos track, Prayer to Infinity, which opens the album, is an example of a simple idea that is made great by the skill of its execution. Various voices, some artificially deep and others effected beyond recognition, play off each other over a slowly moving bass harmony and little else. This is not a new or particularly inspired idea, but the attention paid to the crucial details of the sounds adds a level of craftsmanship to the track that puts it at a level of quality that is much greater than the sum of its concepts. If the disc has a standout, it is the fourth track, Unattended Analogue, by Seiss. An oscillating low frequency backdrop leads into nervous, high-frequency motifs and space-evoking washes and bell tones. The piece packs a lot of thematic movement into an ambient track, and expertly wraps up when its ideas have reached their limit, an idea more ambient musicians should embrace.
804Noise is a collective of experimental electronic artists based in Richmond, Virginia, including Harm Stryker, whose self-titled E.P. was one of my favorite experimental acquisitions last year. While some of this disc is in that same vein of tense dark-ambient composition, the 804Noise folks are not to be so easily classified. Including tracks of pleasantly melodic IDM, harsh instrumental hip-hop and dark ambient, the 804Noise compilation is an exhibition of stylistically diverse artists linked by their deft talent and a penchant for a range of digital tones that can either ease minds or peel paint. My high expectations due to the quality found on the Harm Stryker release were completely met by this collection, and I was pleased by the knowledge that such a forward-thinking musical exploration is being conducted a mere hour and a half down I-95. The 804Noise comp starts Sixteen with a soothing IDMish track by Laferrerra that puts a crisp, stuttering drum beat over a walking vibraphone-tone and intricate background harmonics. Harm Stryker contributes a track of their brand of paranoid dark ambience to the compilation, building tension with throbbing bass tones and extremely soft, minimal glitchy stabs that are briefly interrupted with popping staccato percussion, only to fade into abstractions again with broken bass sweeps. The track is skillfully implemented, and shows a group that is coming to really refine and master its sound. Bloc-Notes, by Metal, is one of the most interesting tracks on the album. Compared with the ambient pieces that precede it, Bloc-Notes is full of energy and relatively upbeat. Reminiscent of early IDM styles, plucked-string and harpsichord-like sounds interact over minimal beats, clicks and laser sounds. To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie add Zin to the mix, a track that is noted as being unfinished. While indeed it never seems to quite find itself, with its general amorphous nature, lack of identity is perhaps the songs greater musical direction. Slipping from one form and sound pallet to the next, the track is a skilled, if dizzying trip through a variety of harsh, ambient styles. If a final version of the track is indeed intended, it would be interesting to see what the artist has in store for the piece.
While indie-pop culture appropriates the IDM underground to make frequently saccharine sing-alongs, it is good to know that young, talented musicians continue to produce intelligent, experimental electronic sounds. While experimental electronic, dark-ambient and power electronic music enthusiasts should already know record labels like Germanys Ant-Zen and Austrias Mego, there is a rise of small scene artists that deserve attention as well. Both Magnanimous Records and 804Noise present high-quality tracks by mid-Atlantic artists. While operating at a lower profile, some of these artists already are or could easily develop into peers of those more prominent in the experimental electronic music community. I highly recommend 804Noise to anyone interested in harsh beats, dark-ambience and sketched out IDM. Fans of a more natural ambient sound will appreciate the drifting tones and haunted quality of the Magnanimous artists.
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