Mathew Jonson: Agents of Time
Wagon Repair

One would naturally have presumed that, as a Cobblestone Jazz member of long-standing and as co-founder of the Wagon Repair label, Mathew Jonson would have issued a number of full-lengths under his given name by now but, alas, Agents of Time turns out to be the Berlin-based producer's debut solo album (that it is is even more surprising when one takes into account the twenty-plus singles and EPs he's released on labels such as Perlon and Minus). That surprise, however, is merely one of many. What also stands out is, firstly, how much Jonson opts for old-school sounds in the album's ten tracks and, secondly, how willing he is to let the material stretch out. In short, Agents of Time is less a frenetic channel-surf than a multi-part exercise in electronic languor.

That can require a bit of getting used to. The first time around, “Marionette (the Beginning),” for example, feels needlessly overlong in its repetitive flow of bubbling arpeggios and pulsating beats, but the more one listens to it the more one grows acclimatized to the track's design until eventually one surrenders to its hypnotic pull and simply enjoys the ride. Jonson pushes the idea to a further extreme by allowing the melancholy sparkler “When Love Feels Like Crying” to push beyond the eleven-minute mark. Such mood pieces indicate that Agents of Time shouldn't be broached as a single-themed dancefloor album either, something that excursions into icy electronica (the brooding “Night Vision”), for instance, and Phasen-styled IDM (“New Model Robots”) also make clear.

The album begins rather disconcertingly by devoting seven minutes to a bucolic ambient reverie that blows with the lightest of breezes. “Love in the Future” tip-toes in with New Age synthesizers lifting their swirling gazes towards the sun and a simple drum machine pulse that foregrounds the old-school approach Jonson applies to many of the album's tracks (the later “Pirates in the 9th” another example). Having the album begin in such a laid-back mode is surprising, but it also prompts the listener to reconsider whatever expectations he/she might have brought to the album. A more natural opener would have been the second cut, “Girls Got Rhythm,” which takes a slinky, twisting groove and a processed vocal sample (“feelin' all right?”) for a modal spin, or the darker “Thieves in Digital Land,” which underscores an Eastern-inflected melodic dimension with a funky bottom end given heft by a burbling bass attack. The trippy title cut impresses as a heady fantasia of kosmische musik but the album's standout cut is nevertheless the raw funk throwdown “Sunday Disco Romance,” which stokes a clubby inferno of disco hi-hats, hand-claps, and a cool bass-and-vocoder line that coyly riffs off of Michael Jackson's “Wanna Be Startin' Something.”

July 2010