Splinters: The Watchmaker
Woodson Lateral

VA: Cumulous

Seattle-based Ben Torrence (aka Splinters) convincingly threads The Watchmaker's timepiece theme throughout the album's 16 electronic cuts. As meticulously constructed as the custom pocket watch gracing its front and back covers, the Woodson Lateral head's microsound-infused, minimal techno second collection teems with all manner of tiny metronomic clicks and ticks. Though there's an obsessive focus on textured sound design, Torrence's material never loses sight of musicality as simple yet engaging melodies, propulsive rhythms, finely-wrought textures, and intricate arrangements are integrated throughout (he has a sense of humour too, as evidenced by the minute's worth of ticks that constitute “Intermission”). Though there's no modicum of examples, “Rasterized,” “Nervous Tic,” and “Second Hand” impress for their textural richness, sing-song melodies, and creaking rhythms. The jaunty “Upholstery” and buoyantly swinging “Stepped Back” are endearing too; interestingly, their skeletal arrangements and seeming incorporations of found sounds render them close cousins to Ezekiel Honig's Scattered Practices. Ever faithful to its concept (the album begins with "Winding Up" and ends with "Winding Down"), Splinters' hour-long The Watchmaker clocks in as an exquisitely sculpted collection of electronic mood music.

Torrence also contributes under the Splinters and Bookmobile guises to Memex Records' appropriately-titled Cumulous comp. Though the general mood is reflective, introspective, and occasionally melancholic, its twelve electronic settings are far from one-dimensional, as ambient splendour mixes with harder-edged pieces that never lapse into cacophony. The collection's trajectory is one of its most appealing qualities, as its quieter beginning (Son Of Rose's “Crossings” unfurls like a gaseous mass of exquisite cloud formations, followed by the graceful piano ambiance of Mori's “Stairwell”) and ending (Bookmobile's dreamy “Kingsley”) frame a heavier middle: Seiche's beat-based “Chevalines,” all spindly tentacles and propulsion, ups the intensity ante, Hakea's (Memex head Matt Turpin) “Mim” resembles a mechano soldier march, and Even Skiks' “nivvia” chaotically careens through a psychedelic jungle of jittery glitch. Though the material situates itself within a well-established genre, most of the tracks avoid sounding overly derivative, though the church organ and beat throb of rRine's “fied mood” suggest a clear Autechre connection. Daniel Anderson's “Scarlet,” a gloriously melodic marriage of heavy electronic beats and natural instruments (trumpet, violin, guitars), is an album standout but the collection as a whole, representative of electronic artistry associated with the Cascade Mountains and Puget Sound regions, is accomplished.

January 2007