Bitcrush: From Arcs to Embers
Lights Out Asia: In the Days of Jupiter
Though stylistically contrasting, these latest releases from the n5MD stable have one thing in common: all are high-quality releases from start to finish, and uphold the label's reputation for reliably issuing material that's consistently strong.
Appropriately, Lights Out Asia's In The Days Of Jupiter, the fourth album from Mike Ystad (electronics), Chris Shafer (guitar, vocals), and Mike Rush (guitar, bass), pushes the trio's electronica-post-rock hybrid into a spacier realm. With eleven tracks woven into a non-stop travelogue, the album might be described as symphonic instrumental rock; while there are occasional episodes of guitar-generated grandiosity, the album is more painterly and atmospheric than fixated on quiet-loud contrasts. Field recordings, electronics, breathy vocals, voiceovers, and electric piano figure prominently in material that's fundamentally cinematic by design. While anthemic tracks such as “Except Europa” and “Then I Hope You Like the Desert” prove that, when the mood strikes, the group can hit as powerfully as Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky, “Attempt No Landing There” is more representative of the album in general in draping breathy vocals across reverberant, electric piano-stained washes; “Currents Meet the Tide” is likewise elevated by the combined radiance of the track's electronics and silken vocals. The group demonstrates an impressive degree of control and restraint in the way “Great Men From Unhealthy Ground” swells so gradually during its ten-minute run without ever sacrificing its dream-like swoon. There's a good amount of stylistic range, too, with the album featuring pretty ambient settings (“Arbres Paisible,” “Bye Bye November”) in addition to ambitious epics (“Shifting Sands Wreck Ships”). There's only one downside to In The Days Of Jupiter, which is that it's difficult for the album's symphonic mood to be sustained satisfyingly for the entire sixty-six-minute running time. A slightly shorter album—in the fifty- to fifty-five-minute range, say—would have brought a tighter focus to what still remains a strong if overlong collection.
It's telling that in the liner notes to Enough Conflict Richard Bailey (aka Proem) thanks Proswell, Ilkae, and Deru—all of them Merck label-mates during the Miami label's heyday. One could therefore be forgiven for detecting a fair amount of Merck flavour in Bailey's latest collection. In particular, the opening tracks (“Deep Sleeping Birds,” “Back To Fail”) on his eighth album and follow-up to the previous n5MD outing, A Permanent Solution, exemplify the intricate and multi-layered style he refined during his tenure with Merck before landing at n5MD. Bailey's wonky electronica offers a kaleidoscopic and restlessly shape-shifting ride, with most tracks experiencing multiple twists and turns during their compact three-minute sojourns. References to Autechre aren't entirely out-of-line—it wouldn't be hard to imagine “Jiittirrrrriii” and “She Never Cries” released as Autechre tracks, for example—but the Proem project ultimately differentiates itself from others by its highly personalized character, with Bailey customarily wearing his heart on his digital sleeve, as it were. What's most surprising about the album, however, is how it gradually moves beyond the overcompressed style of its opening tracks. The fifth cut, “Fall Forward,” strips the Proem sound down until it becomes a breezy, piano-driven electro-pop setting, and “Kalimba Jam” is, of all things, a kalmiba-based electronic lullaby. Bailey's tendency to overload tracks sometimes gets the best of him, as evidenced by “Skulls,” which would be a perfectly fine sampling of vocal-based dreampop were it not cluttered with drums. But in general, Bailey's decision to open up the album's style beyond a single dimension was a wise one and helps the album earn the recommendation it deserves.
Being a remix project, Bitcrush's From Arcs To Embers would seem to be the least essential of the three releases. Maybe so, but there's no denying the ample pleasures the collection offers. Mike Cadoo called upon Bersarin Quartett, Funckarma, Jatun, Near The Parenthesis, port-royal, Stripmall Architecture (Halou), SubtractiveLAD, Vanessa Van Basten, Winterlight, and Worm Is Green to re-work tracks from the five albums Cadoo released under the Bitcrush name (Enarc, Shimmer and Fade, In Distance, Epilogue in Waves, Of Embers) between 2004 and 2010. The Bitcrush sound—an earthy and analog-oriented fusion of post-rock and shoegaze powered by epic drumming, guitars, bass, and occasional vocalizing—is audible throughout, though refracted through the prismatic sensibilities of the remixers. The album begins with a gorgeous melancholy treatment of “Post” by the Bersarin Quartett that's equally elegiac and symphonic. Enhanced with seaside atmosphere, the remix of the 2007 track draws the listener into the album before Worm Is Green's “Untilted” overhaul shifts gears with an alluring blend of post-rock and head-nod, and a tasty guitar hook intertwines with Moog-styled synthesizer patterns during Funckarma's memorably funky “Colder” remix. Some treatments opt for seductive dreaminess (Winterlight's grandiose shoegaze overhaul of “Every Sunday,” Stripmall Architecture's lulling “Bitcrush In Dub,” SubtractiveLAD's “Of Days”) whereas others gravitate towards blistering treatments (Jatun's crushing ambient-drone remix of “Waiting For Something” and the epic kick of Vanessa Van Basten's “An Island A Penninsula” [sic] remix). Near The Parenthesis' graceful re-model of “The Days We Spent Within” covers both bases in marrying piano- and glockenspiel-laden prettiness with heavy guitar-fueled dramatics. All told, even if the original Bitcrush albums are in your possession, the new one re-fashions the tracks differently and solidly enough to warrant your attention.