May 1, 2003
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Soft Pink Truth
The Wind-Up Bird
April 30, 2003
Pale Horse and Rider
Stephan Mathieu and Ekkehard Ehlers
April 29, 2003
Set Fire to Flames
I was not a big fan of Tilliander's last project on the prolific German experimental electronic label, Mille Plateaux. Under the moniker "mokira," Tilliander's click-house minimalism struck at angles obtuse to my ears. I still have not written a review of it; I am just not able to translate, to convert, to think—it. This may speak of a brilliant album, it may not. I am frustrated with it, and it is gathering dust.
This album is much different. It is under his "real name"—or at least what I assume is his proper name at birth. And Tilliander's has birthed a very Poppy baby. Yes, Pop is big, it's big for techno-minimalists to do Pop. We're over the warehouse thing, it seems, over the seriousness and art-electronik too, so now we're reinverting—maybe reinventing—the other half of ‘80s electro-clash: ‘80s postmodern-beyond-irony-music. Bring on Laurie Anderson.
Tilliander's style is close to SND, although with a bit more harmony, a bit more high-end glitch, somewhat not quite as angular, especially on this album. It's minimalism, but somehow, it self-contains a funk, a movement of sound through its focus on the bare necessities of rhythm, which are primarily breakbeat structures that dance somewhere between hip-hop and ambient. It is the collision and uncertainty between the two—this kind of ambient, washed out feel through an extremely minimal synth pan that nevertheless is cut through by a strong break—that lends the album a degree of mystery and curiosity for the listener. I'm reminded of snow falling in the ski village of Whistler, BC, and listening, over and over again, to Frank Bretschneider and Taylor Deupree's Balance. This album has a similar tone—but unlike the former's enveloping of the ears into a rhythm of space and superlinearity, Tilliander cuts this tone to achieve a broken and fragmented whisp of the ritualistic. We are not hanging off fish-hooks just yet, although the celebration has most certainly begun.
The real surprise here are the tracks that incorporate voice and enter into a strange morphology of pop, beginning with the slightly-vocoded "Rescue Me Now" featuring Jay-Jay Johanson. This is the closest thing to a click-ballad, a micro-R ’n B love song of desperation and despair, that I've heard yet. "Jesus won't rescue me now / Mother won't rescue me now," sings Johanson as the slow click-beats and arctic drones caress his lonely voice. For those who don't know (I didn't), Johanson is a Swedish electro-pop star, well, more like an atmospheric electronic emo singer, who has worked with Funkstorung and has a rather devoted following.
Then there's the "rap" track, "Duplicity," featuring Fu Dogg, who seems to be a Swedish underground, Stockholm-based rapper. I think he's speaking English, but there are a slew of cross-cultural rap-grunts. You know, those "ughs" and "awghs" and "We ready for UGH UGH." Somehow the whole thing works. Tilliander's beats and synths override Dogg, so his dominant lyrics are subsumed partially to the background. At times, it sounds like he's yelling into a metallic room while others talk, and his lyrics have been arranged to the beats in such a fashion that they, at times, seem to be utterly irrelevant to each other's existence until, all of a sudden, they coincide at a juncture of a slice. Choruses are disrupted; the rap is flowed and strung. It's nothing like American hip-hop with its self-attitude so blatantly compressed into a track that works as one sound machine; here we have strands of sound that in their numerousness defy each other's full presence as "hip-hop."
The next track, "Plee," cuts the lyrical content further. There's no mention of whom the words are from, although one suspects it is Fu. Only unintelligible snippets come out in a slow cut of precise beats. A stripped Prefuse73. It's barely vocal at all, but the few fragments that wedge themselves in-between the tight beats speak as much through their mangled absence.
The entire album is complex in its incredible attention to minute detail, a consideration of spectrum, of the smallest sounds, that raises the bar in approaching the production of music in this involving genre. The last track returns us, perhaps, to a slightly earlier moment in the map of music that is Mille Plateaux's sprawling history. It's more ubiquitous ambience and embracing of drones calms the avant-garde nerves... just chill. Hence its title: "When Routine Bites Hard." Indeed—beautiful.
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