Here are the album reviews I wrote for the August issue of EL Magazine, which was distributed in Tokyo July 25.
-The Avalanches (Universal)
-Aphex Twin (Warp/Beat)
The Avalanches’ first and, until last week, only album has become a legendary recording not so much because of its quality or popularity but because it perfectly encapsulates an era in music that no longer seems relevant. Made up of hundreds of samples that were lovingly assembled into “tracks” that could pass as distinct songs but were best appreciated as one long DJ session, Since I Left You was certainly a bear to create, which probably explains why it took the group sixteen years to produce a followup—in addition to finding and editing the tracks they also had to get permission to use them. Some people complain that you can’t rightfully call the Avalanches musicians because they didn’t play any music, which is a fair charge but beside the point, because if you listen and enjoy, it’s simply a direct extension of the Avalanches’ own experience with these song fragments. They just decided to do something creative with that experience. Wildflower has something more, though: numerous guest vocalists who sing above the samples, as well as added orchestrations, thus giving the album an extra layer of originality. Unlike real DJ sets, the Avalanches aren’t overly concerned with the dance floor—there’s little in the way of break beats or tension-and-release. For the most part they’re into summery pop, and while the tempos change from time to time, there’s not much that could be called dramatic. The hip-hop component, though not overwhelming, is more apparent, and the group seems to have placed special emphasis on contrasting indie pop with rap. As collage music goes it isn’t as adventurous as Since I Left You simply because it’s impossible to be that adventurous when everyone can do this sort of thing without spending a lot of money. So half the enjoyment of Wildflower is in the impression you get: These guys work hard. Richard D. James is one of those DJ/techno artists who tries to make it all seem like not much work; meaning if you like what he does you chalk it up to talent. But having spent more than a decade away from the Aphex Twin moniker and its attendant art-dance music, he seems to have retreated to zero. His latest is a long EP that explores beats and melody in a fairly straightforward way without spoiling the danceability of the tracks. In fact, rather than improvise harmonically, he fiddles with the tempos in small ways to vary their swing and propulsive force. As usual, his track titles are completely functional. Several include the word “Cheetah,” which reportedly is a kind of electronic instrument manufactured in the 80s and 90s and we will assume was used in the making of the album. One could almost call the EP a kind of test record for tech freaks, and PR material includes a lot of jargon. We’ll take their word for it, because simplicity like this can be addicting. Continue reading