VA: Clicks & Cuts 5 — Paradigm Shift
Ametsub: The Nothings of the North
More than anyone else, current Mille Plateaux overseer Marcus Gabler had to have been aware of the upsides and downsides associated with re-launching the label name: on the one hand, doing so garners immediate publicity for any project issued under the banner but, on the other, using the name brings with it all the historical baggage of the original regime (the label shut down in 2004 followed by short-lived attempts to revive it in 2005 and 2006). The latter complication is exacerbated by the fact that, in addition to two artist-based collections, Gabler has opted to release a fifth installment in the Clicks & Cuts series, and if there's anything synonymous with the Mille Plateaux model that operated under founder Achim Szepanski it's that. Depending on one's vantage point, Gabler's move can be seen an act of hubris (in the accompanying press release, Gabler describes it as “probably the most musically substantial Clicks & Cuts compilation ever”) a call-to-arms, or perhaps an overt challenge to the previous management. Maybe it's Gabler's way of directly acknowledging the legacy so as to sweep aside any possible accusations of disingenuousness and hopefully move beyond it (it is titled Clicks & Cuts 5.0—Paradigm Shift, after all). Of course at day's end what most matters is the music, and whether the release represents a significant and innovative advance on the past or amounts to a played-out retread.
With its opening tracks firmly grounded in the Clicks & Cuts tradition, the album's sequenced in such a way as to suggest that Gabler does, in fact, want to confront the legacy headlong if only as a way of providing a bridge from past to present. Politics (or non-politics) aside, a glitch-funk setting such as Aoki Takamasa's “RN4-09 (Short Version)” wouldn't have sounded out of place on one of the previous Clicks & Cuts editions, while Scattertape, kiyo, and Wyatt Keusch offer their own takes on the genre (to Gabler's credit, he also opted to wipe the slate clean and exclude artists who appeared on previous volumes—if the new release is designed to represent a new generation of artists, the decision to feature all new contributors means that, on that count at least, it succeeds). The collection's scope extends beyond a single style, however. There's head-nod (Loom's “Isolex”), sparkling electronica (Sifa Dias's “Eitec Aa (C&C Fade)”), even cloudy dub-techno (Nicolaus's “Inner (C&C Fade)”). The melodic electronica of Ametsub's “Repeatedly” embeds piano playing within a field of warm synthetics and electronics. Countering its soothing character are more aggressive settings such as Yu Miyashita's “Scrypt” and lodsb's “Eve” that will prevent anyone from accusing the release as being too soft. Bass throbs and glitches erratically pop like firecrackers during Manathol's “BAKETO (C&C Cut)” in a way that calls to mind the defunct Miami-based Merck label, while Kabutogani's “CXEMA” reveals stronger affinities to Raster-Noton than Mille Plateaux.
Those deeming this year's model a betrayal of Szepanski's might do well to remember that many an original Mille Plateaux release had only the most tangential connection to the theory of Deleuze and Guattari—not every release was an In Memoriam Gilles Deleuze, in other words. If the new collection isn't a radical step beyond conventional electronica, it's hardly an embarrassment. Stripped of the baggage of accumulated history, it remains a credible collection of tracks, glitch-inflected and otherwise. Perhaps some clarification regarding the title is in order, as the words Paradigm Shift are vulnerable to misinterpretation: convinced that by now virtually every sound, genre, and concept has been explored, Gabler contends that for today's music to be truly innovative it must shift its focus to something more timeless, specifically to composition and arrangement. Those 'new paradigms' help explain why there's an oft-greater concentration on song structure in the latest compilation than was audible in previous chapters.
The two artist albums issued by the label are by figures who appear on the Clicks & Cuts compilation, namely Ametsub and Kabutogani. The former's The Nothings of the North is a sixty-five-minute follow-up to the 2006 debut outing, Linear Cryptic. Having played the instrument since the age of six, it doesn't surprise that Ametsub's tracks deploy piano as the central element. It's also the place from which the tracks' melodies originate, and one hears hints of an elegance in his playing that's reminiscent of Ryuichi Sakamoto. But while piano may be the core instrument, it's hardly the only one, as the Tokyo, Japan-based producer builds his polished material into richly textured arrangements filled with electronics, synthesizers, outdoors field recordings (“66” especially), and programmed beats. While there is an experimental dimension (heard in the glitches and the cut-and-paste techniques used in creating the tracks), the melodic emphasis bolsters the album's listenability and accessibility. So while there is no shortage of breezy melodic electronica pieces (“Faint Dazzlings,” “Repeatedly”), the album also features bubbly, synth-driven IDM (“Time for Trees”) and even a pulsating dub vignette (“skyr”). “Peaks Far Afield” inhabits a middle ground between clicks'n'cuts and IDM swing and, in a nice change of pace, Ametsub uses electric piano as the lead instrument to give “Snowy Lava” a lightly soulful feel. On the downside, two bonus versions of “Repeatedly,” the first a Helios remix and the second a superfluous “Video Edit,” make the album nine minutes longer than it needs to be.
Stylistically, BEKTOP is wholly unlike the Ametsub release. Presented in a Constructivist design, the fourth album by French producer Kabutogani (the Japanese name for ‘Horseshoe Crab') very clearly aligns itself to the minimal, glitch-laden production style associated with Raster-Noton and specifically Alva Noto. The focus here is less on melody and more on rhythmic glitch sounds—digital throbs, clicks, pops, and whirrs assembled into funk rhythm patterns—though admittedly Kabutogani does occasionally allow a melodic dimension to emerge in certain tracks. “120 Degrees” and “Production Peripherals,” for example, possess compositional shapes that elevate them above skeletal rhythm workouts. Elsewhere, there's more than enough low-end throb (“Seisen,” “The Green Dome,” “Ducts”) to keep the Raster-Noton fan happy until its next Carsten Nicolai release appears. To his credit, Kabutogani exercises an admirable degree of restraint in limiting the album to a svelte thirty-nine minutes rather than allowing it to bloat into a too-long hour.