Balam Acab: Wander / Wonder
Ricardo Donoso: Progress Chance
Thpough we're dealing with three different producers and three different albums, commonalities emerge: all three are concise instrumental electronic collections with at least some degree of cosmic character.
Anontendre, Andrew Tuttle's third Anonymeye full-length, is admirably direct: not only is each of its seven titles one word in length, the album as a whole weighs in at a lean thirty-two minutes. All that does, however, is leave the listener wanting more, not less of the Brisbane composer's electroacoustic settings by the time the final, magnificently galloping note of “Exilarchy” sounds. Something's definitely afoot in the politically toned song titles—“Meritocracy,” “Plutocracy,” “Plutarchy,” et al.—but no one need get too worked up about any underlying power-based theme, one way or the other, given that the material's purely instrumental. Working with acoustic guitar, synthesizer, electronics, organ, piano, harmonica, and signal processing, Tuttle's helped out on a couple of tracks by Cornel Wilczek who adds his own acoustic guitar and electronics to the mix.
What clearly identifies the material as Anonymeye is the meeting between analog and digital worlds: acoustic folk, in the form of picking, strums, and tremolo-laden shudder, and kosmische psychedelia, in the form of synthesizer burble that flows constantly through Tuttle's tracks. Combining the two in the way he does results in an arresting listening experience that finds one's attention rapidly flickering from one piece to the next. In some cases, one of the styles dominates, such as when “Meritocracy” alternates between reflective strums and jaunty picking episodes, with Tuttle's guitar accompanied discreetly by piano; in other cases, both appear, as when the sparse pluck of an acoustic guitar warms shimmering cosmic swirls of synthesizer chords in “Federation.” A veritable epic by the album's standards, “Plutocracy” puts its nine minutes to use in the form of an extended drone exploration whose motor at one point slowly winds down, thereby triggering shuddering whorls of electronics to spin into the sky until they too reach a woozy state of immobility. Yes, there's tension in play—between the analog and digital realms and the acoustic and electronic sounds—but the tracks themselves offer more of a peaceful resolution between all such elements as opposed to oil-and-water conflict.
Progress Chance is the work of Ricardo Donoso, a Brazilian native currently associated with Boston's experimental music scene and whose two previous solo releases appeared on cassette. During a break from working on the score for an upcoming film (The Intensive), Donoso decided he'd take a stab at creating his own version of the “morning dance music” he'd been exposed to in the Brazilian rave scene and so decided to produce a collection of dance tracks rooted in trance and techno but stripped of the customary beat elements and drum programming. Ever-burbling waves of pulsating synthesizer patterns give Donoso's album an energized, hyperactive feel that's sometimes countered by the brooding tones that drift slowly o'ertop a given piece's base. Sprinkling whooshes and whirrs, interlocking rhythm patterns, and bright squiggles across the album's seven tracks, Donoso builds up multiple layers until a complex mass of contrasting elements results.
Portending tragic events to come, ominous clouds sweep across the skies during “Chrome Decadence,” a piece filled with synthetic glissandi and warbling organisms that's wobbly enough it could almost be called beats-free dubstep. Layers accumulate incrementally during “Klatu,” with its initial burbling brook joined by foreboding string washes and grainy radio transmissions (the track's spacey quality title is reinforced by the titular allusion to Klaatu, the name of the human-like alien who appears in the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still). During “The North Quadrant (Ascension),” trance-inducing arpeggios and grinding low-end rhythms grow into a dramatic, multi-tiered set-piece, while the swaying synthetic swirls of “The Deck of an Ancient Ship” have a narcoticizing impact. Had someone told me a dreamscape such as the album's eight-minute centerpiece “Morning Criminal” was actually recorded during the mid-‘70s in Berlin, I wouldn't have batted an eye (though I might have made note of the exceptionally pristine sound quality). That's not an indirect criticism intended to suggest the material's outdated or stale, but more to emphasize how much Donoso's particular brand of retro-futurism fits comfortably within and perpetuates a classic tradition rooted in the ‘70s.
In contrast to the the other two albums, Alec Koone's debut Balam Acab full-length collection, Wander/Wonder, is considerably more sample- than synthesizer-based. More importantly, it's a remarkable collection from the Pennsylvania-based Koone, and a preternaturally mature one, too, given that it's the product of a twenty-year-old. He invests the album's songs with an unabashedly emotional and ecstatic character that helps them transcend whatever genre associations might be imputed to them—the luscious, crackled-drenched torch song “Now Time” a case in point. The Caretaker, Burial, and Broadcast (in its final hypnagogic incarnation) are some of the names that spring to mind as one listens to Wander/Wonder, even if in the end Koone makes a strong argument for Balam Acab as a sound entity beholden to no one but itself.
“Welcome” opens the album powerfully with a piece that builds in intensity across three steps: the first establishes mood with a tapestry of ghostly sounds—vinyl crackle, a heartbeat pulse, warbly burble—that forms a lulling mass of eroded sound; in the second part, a lurching beat pattern and plaintive vocal appear until finally, near track's end, the skies open and the track exits in a mini-explosion of controlled euphoria. Like a half-remembered dream smothered in fog and crackle, “Oh, Why” moves in and out of focus, its nostalgic vocal traces resurrecting a sing-song chant from childhood and smearing it with molasses-thick layers of synthetic flurries. Elsewhere, “Expect” cultivates a twinkly, fairy-tale ambiance with a rich mix of chiming melodies, whispers, claps, and slo-mo beats, and “Motion,” elevated by a sweeping mood of rapturous uplift, provides one of the album's most powerful moments. As good as the album is, there's certainly room for refinement in Koone's vision. “Await” is beautiful, but its impact is diluted by the gratuitous inclusion of water splashes, while the funereal “Apart” has its dramatic intensity undercut by the Chipmunks-like character of the vocal. Even so, the collection impresses as a sumptuous haunting headphones listen whose melancholy settings blaze with resplendent detail.