Pluramon: Dreams Top Rock
Karaoke Kalk

Judging by the wailing guitars, angelic vocals, and wall-of-sound production on Dreams Top Rock, someone must have lent Marcus Schmickler shoegazer records by Ride, Revolver, and Slowdive during its production. Naturally, it's unlike his Wabi Sabi and Sator Rotas projects, yet it's also radically different from the previous Pluramon recordings Render Bandits and Bit Sand Riders. The latter two are strong, instrumental affairs, with the former's electronics enhanced by the inventive percussion patterns of Can's Jaki Liebezeit, and the latter everything a remix album should be (but typically isn't). The contrasting styles of its remixers (Mogwai, Hecker, Merzbow, Atom Heart, Matmos, et cetera) guarantee a wide variety of interpretations yet Bit Sand Riders also manages to achieve a remarkable coherence in spite of those differences. By comparison, Dreams Top Rock (incidentally, the name of the race horse that graces the front cover) is more accessible, not only because of its concentration upon short, song-form construction but largely due to the presence of Julee Cruise's vocals. In fact, the recording conceivably could have been released with 'featuring Julee Cruise' on the cover, given how prominently she's featured. Other guests include Keith Rowe and Kevin Drumm (guitars), Felix Kubin (synth), Hayden Chisholm (clarinet), and Jochen Rueckert (drums), but their contributions are less conspicuous for being absorbed into the dense sound fabric Schmickler creates.

Cruise originally garnered attention through her collaborations with David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti on “Mysteries of Love” (from the film Blue Velvet and its soundtrack) and her memorable debut Floating Into the Night with its song “Falling,” the theme song from Twin Peaks. Her singing on Dreams Top Rock is equally distinctive yet slightly looser and more relaxed than on the other recordings mentioned. As was the case with her Lynch-related work, the songs on Dreams Top Rock have a powerful, melodramatic quality. Her dreamy singing lends itself naturally to the shoegazer style Schmickler evokes, most evidently on “Hello Shadow” which boasts all of the genre's trademarks: loud, distorted guitars, heavy drums, and angelic vocals. Similarly, “Time for a Lie” pairs a swelling mass of guitars with a huge choir of Cruise's vocals, while “Time (Catharsia Mx)” is generally a gentler, less dense version of the song which showcases her singing more forthrightly. On “Have You Seen Jill,” sleigh bells accompany roaring guitars while Cruise intones the title in a mantra-like fashion against a psychedelic wall-of-sound. Another surprising departure is “Flageolea,” due primarily to its melancholy blues-folk ballad style as well as for its instrumentation (acoustic bass, drum brushes, new age synths, clarinet, and acoustic guitar). Two instrumental tracks hark back recognizably to the rawer, dissonant Render Bandits style: “Noise Academy” and “Log,” both of which feature distorted, razor-sharp guitar scrapings.

Dreams Top Rock does disappoint in two respects. One track, the dreamy “Difference Machine,” is marred by a needless female voiceover; a Cruise vocal here would have better complemented the instrumental backing and strengthened the unified impression the recording otherwise possesses. Secondly, the emphasis upon song structures means a curtailment of more abstract, experimental approaches that one might have expected Schmickler to pursue in the follow-up to Render Bandits and Bit Sand Riders. The new recording succeeds, however, on numerous levels. It's a refreshing change in direction for Pluramon, one slightly more accessible yet also one that doesn't compromise on the integrity established on previous releases. Not surprisingly, Julee Cruise's vocals humanize Schmickler's music, lending a warmth to it that wasn't prominent before. He accomplishes the difficult feat of creating music that retains its ties to his Pluramon past while severing itself enough from it to sound like an entirely new chapter.

September 2003