Obfusc: Cities of Cedar

More quality IDM-oriented electronica from UK imprint Boltfish. This time out, it's Obfusc, the nom de plume of Brooklyn-based photographer and graphic designer Joseph Burke, who mans the controls for his debut full-length 's ten originals and five supplementary remixes. Burke himself regards Cities of Cedar as a statement of acceptance of urban existence, for better or worse (apparently the idea permeates his photographic work too, with the erosion of the urban environment—cracked and peeling paint, rust, discarded objects—a theme returned to repeatedly), though there's admittedly not a whole lot of grit dirtying up Obfusc 's generally pretty pieces. Whatever grime there is comes in the form of the field elements (water, wind chimes), sampled voices, and found sounds that surface intermittently, an approach that asserts itself at the outset when “Blue Morning Light” combines echoing chords with La Jetée-styled ambiance.

Par for the Boltfish course, Obfusc's tracks are polished to a sleek sheen and impeccably crafted but occasionally lack bite: willowy synth melodies in “Amateur Cartography” transport us to Boards of Canada territory, while “Climb Through the Basement Window” and “Sounds from Shattered Seashells” offer up a nice acoustic guitar-synth interlude and peaceful prettiness, respectively. The tracks that stand out are the harder-edged beat-based cuts (such as “Close Your Eyes and Daydream”) where the funk grooves give the material the heft it needs to distinguish itself from the work of kindred genre spirits. The album kicks into highest gear when “Delayed Sunshine Reaction” boosts its hazy synth melodies and voice samples with rough-edged beat patterning.

And, as with many a Boltfish release, the artist's originals are rounded out by a handful of remixes by label associates. But it's telling that, in every case, the remixers amp up the material with funkier grooves and the material's all the better for it; in truth, it wouldn't be overstating it to say that the remix versions better the originals. Milieu and Phasen boost the appeal of their respective makeovers, “Sounds From Shattered Seashells” and “Morning Walk to the Pier,” with injections of downtempo head-nodding rhythms. City Rain amps up the funk quotient of “Amateur Cartography” while Electricwest significantly bolsters the dreaminess of “Climb Through the Basement Window.” Out of nowhere comes the album's most glorious moment, Ova Looven's remix of “Close Your Eyes and Daydream” which transforms the original into a sparkling electro-funk setting that culminates in an episode of heavenly vocal counterpoint.

September 2008