By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Room to mood
Melatonin Bullet EP
From Our Living Room to Yours
american analog set
Emperor Jones/Trance Syndicate
How much structure can you subvert, how much melody can you deconstruct, and how many found sounds can you bend to a song's will before it stops being music? While many look to a machine-generated din for the answer, two Texas bands go the other way--back into the analog house.
The latest from Denton's Transona Five and Austin's american analog set are both very much in the image of their predecessors, floating by so ephemerally that you hardly notice their passage. There's a real sense of allowing tunes to find their own level--regardless of pop considerations--that link both bands with Bedhead. Like Bedhead's work, these are definitely two albums that want you to swim to them.
Both works are very subtle and atmospheric, full of eerie shimmering that--like the soundtrack to the movie Carnival of Souls--is both kind of spooky and vaguely cheesy. Again like Bedhead, T5 and a.a.s. are looking for a collection of moods that add up to more than the sum of their parts. Thin cloudbanks of keyboard sound drift along, high above almost-there vocals that carry more mood than meaning. This is indirect music, with a lot of room around each part, space that allows the listener to seep in around the song's edges--and vice versa.
Of the pair, Transona Five is probably the more willfully odd. Sometimes the music seems in danger of slipping away altogether, as when vocalist Chris Anderson admits--like a tired schoolboy with a flair for self-drama--"I took a pill" (on "Transona Borealis"). The american analog set are a fairly subdued lot themselves; their music is sort of the aural equivalent of peripheral vision, but with a few notable differences. Take the relatively peppy start of "white house," or the way in which the band stitches their widely spaced parts together with the bounce of simple, to-the-point guitar lines. One of a.a.s.'s most notable tricks from the fun of watching fireworks was an erratic series of noises, as if the tape had been clumsily--and repeatedly--spliced, lending the whole album a disjointed quality. From Our Living Room to Yours is more organic and unified, maybe even--as the name implies--homier.
The most impressive feat of either of these albums is the invocation of a separate place, as removed from the world outside as the song that summons it is from traditional pop craft. When the music's at its best, there occurs a suspension--of reality, of rules--that conjures up images of floating in cool water, just below the surface and looking up at the wildly refracted images on the other side.
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