It's perhaps the ultimate dilemma in art--once you successfully shake off the contrasts of your genre, effectively moving into the great unknown of the "avant-garde," what the hell do you do next? If you continue to produce work that conforms to some accepted definition of "experimental"--one being followed by every other member of your new future-looking fraternity--you end up churning out music more formulaic than your pop-minded former colleagues, only less appealing. The race to obscurity inevitably ends with someone bashing a badger wired with contact mics over a log and releasing it on a special-edition transparent seven-inch with a cover hand drawn by the "artist."
Or at least it has in techno. Jake Mandell, a Minneapolis native living in techno's current world headquarters, Berlin, started his electronic music career dashing out to its frontier as quickly as possible. With a background in classical music, he was uninterested in the strict formal constraints of purist techno: a metronomic bass drum line, an interlocking pattern of straightforward grooves that incites dancing, the exclusive use of analog music machines. His debut full-length, Parallel Processes, flouted those conventions at every turn--he used a computer, so the sounds were unmistakably digital and the fractured beats skittered about, refusing to settle in the orthodox 4/4 time-signature structure of techno.
But as evidenced by more prominent computer music cosmonauts such as England's Autechre, such outer-fringe explorations can become impenetrable to all but the artists themselves and a small coterie of listeners with the dancing inclinations of John Ashcroft. Perhaps Mandell saw this wall approaching, because Love Songs for Machines sees him turning back and playing with the traditions of the music he started in but never really adhered to himself. Here, the changes in each song unfold more slowly and subtly, and the rhythms evoke more immediate visceral reaction. The sound palette is still computer-rendered, so he gets a range of melody well outside the one offered by the usual synthesizer suspects. Making music that moves bodies, it turns out, requires a compositional sophistication that is worthy of an avant-gardist's attention--and the result is an album that hovers between radical experientialism and inviting pop music.
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