He Can Jog: Middlemarch

A generally inviting exercise in warm electronic melodicism, MiddleMarch by He Can Jog (yes, the title purposefully references George Eliot's novel and the alias adopted by laptop knob-twiddler and one-time trombonist Erik Schoster is an anagram of John Cage) inverts the usual template by spreading beats more freely over songs anchored by emotive keyboard melodies—but that's just one of the oblique strategies Schoster brings to the table. Accompanied by a handful of guests (who contribute Rhodes, Vibes and guitar samples, field recordings, and vocals), Schoster works a community theme into the album (hence the title choice) as it documents not only the evolution in his working methods—sampling, software programming, and electronic synthesis all figure in—over a four-year span, but also his interpersonal experiences during that time.

Some pieces are experimental and explorative in character: a collage-like scattering of elements constitutes “My (Mother's) Records” (not entirely successfully either, as dropping the line “The songs we're now hearing are ancient tunes” into its middle seems a little too cute), and deeply textured masses of flickering starbursts flow through “Agnes (After Woodland Pattern),” “Pan-Fried Fern,” and “A Small Thing.” More immediately appealing is the material that gravitates towards sparkling electronic pop: “Contractors and Architects,” composed and sung by Nick Sanborn, could pass for a sample track by Morr Music's latest signing, while the keyboard melodies in “Suite Part Three” could single-handedly lull the crankiest infant to sleep. Both tendencies coalesce in the twelve-minute meditation “Suites Part One and Two” whose becalmed arrangement of glistening bells and tonal shimmer closes the album strongly.

July 2008