Morgan Packard: Moment Again Elsewhere

Morgan Packard's sophomore full-length, Moment Again Elsewhere, represents a somewhat surprising shift in direction for the New York-based producer. Rather than taking the extroverted character of his 2007 debut, Airships Fill the Sky, to a more intense level, he's done somewhat of the opposite in fashioning a collection that invites the term ‘microsound'—not, however, in the familiar sense in the word's allusion to music that flirts with inaudibility and champions extreme minimalism; in Moment Again Elsewhere's case, ‘microsound' refers to an ultra-focused concentration on sonic texture where melodic cells of acoustic sound are woven into pristine tapestries that are best experienced via headphones or on a high-end system. Compared to Airships Fill the Sky, Moment Again Elsewhere's charms are subtler, more understated and nuanced. Oh sure, there are elements common to both releases—the presence of saxophone, piano, accordion, and electronic beats and textures—but the new album finds him shaping electroacoustic elements into mobile masses rather than arranging them into individual voices resounding within a simulated collective. Making the project even more of a personal statement is the fact that Packard used his own software, Ripple, for the music's digital production rather than an already available software such as Ableton.

The album's remarkably rich sound world straddles multiple genres. Some pieces could conceivably function as club tracks—club music of an admittedly sinuous kind—while others, the beatless settings in particular (the saxophone-heavy “Explain” and “Elsewhere,” a beatless reverie for processed piano and shimmering accordion), are more suited to home listening. Regardless, the album's emphasis is less upon rhythm-based tracks than textural sound sculpting. While treatments are plentiful, the acoustic instruments don't lose their identifying characters, though the piano is often heavily treated. Its dominant role sometimes lends the material a jazz-like feel, as evidenced by “Window” where elegant piano chords are accompanied by an animated blend of ambient treatments, bass synth tones, and a lagging rhythm distinguished by an unusual hiccup.

In what could be construed as a homage to Steve Reich, “Unveil” sprinkles loops of piano clusters across a driving krautrock groove. Packard's attention to micro-detail is already apparent at this initial stage of the album, as subtle filigrees of percussive sound attach themselves to the beat pattern and shuddering masses waver below the piano fragments. The album closer “Reveal,” not surprisingly, revisits the opening track by resurrecting the piano splashes and phase shifting in a way that makes its connection to Music for 18 Musicians all the more vivid. Other influences are occasionally audible. Vestiges of the clicks'n'cuts tradition subtly surface, and the material often exemplifies a textural density that's reminiscent of a prototypical Raster-Noton recording. In “Insist,” the rich textural sound field evokes clicks'n'cuts in its galloping rhythm pattern of tiny speckles and shaker textures; insistent piano chords, whirrs, bells, saxophone bleats, and assorted other noises also emerge, extending the song's sonic range even more. To some degree the album's focus on sound design suggests Packard's navigating a path similar to Monolake's, and there are even moments during “Moment” that could pass for Monolake. A tasty exercise in neo-funk swing, the track is goosed by a feathery sax motif and clipped keyboard punctuations, though it must be said that the track's loose feel starts to feel a tad aimless during the track's second half. In the other ‘dance' track “Although,” which digs into a downtempo funk groove without losing any of the textural focus that's so dominant elsewhere, grainy waves of percussive static ebb and flow while a minimal bass pulse thuds and an insistent piano motif plinks.

Influences aside, Packard continues to develop his own voice by pulling together multiple strands of musical ideas and production-related innovations, and Moment Again Elsewhere represents a noticeable evolution beyond Airships Fill the Sky. Noting as much isn't intended to discredit the debut release, which is a perfectly satisfying recording in its own right, so much as it's designed to accentuate the advances Packard has made in making that always challenging transition from the first album release to the second.

October 2010