Courtesy of Joel Johnson, I found out that Paul Robertson has a new animation out. It’s a hearty 320MiB AVI file (I recommend downloading it via BitTorrent) and is a worthy sequel (this time in color) to Robertson’s indescribable masterpiece Pirate Baby Cabana Battle Street Fight 2006. To describe both videos as unholy apocalyptic freakouts is to do them inadequate justice; anyone who ever played Dodonpachi or Metal Slug X and felt that the boss battles just weren’t ridiculous enough needs to give this a look. It really makes former brainbursters like the Emergency Broadcast Network and Tetsuo: The Iron Man look tame. Impossibly dense seas of pixelated pop trash iconography flit by on torrents of blood at 30 hallucinatory, psychedelic frames per second; Paul is quite possibly the most skilled artist of Generation x-chan.
Integral to Robertson’s complex eschatological imagery is the soundtrack, both to Pirate Baby and (especially) to Kings of Power 4 Billion %, and fittingly enough, Robertson gives full credit to the soundtrack’s creator, Cornel Wilczek. Wilczek really goes balls-out on this one, producing disjointed industrial prog-metal electronica that wanders between amped up Clark and something like a more traditionally death metal version of Meshuggah. The guitars are a little rudimentary, but occasionally reach for a sort of Robert Fripp lunacy that, combined with the rest of the swampy, dense electronic mix and the eyeball-searing, brain-violating visuals creates a pure gestalt, a solid block of crushed and compacted pop culture that requires time, attention, and no predisposition towards epilepsy to decode.
Wilczek and Robertson are a natural team, and for a case study that is slanted more towards the Wilczek side of things, check out Devil Eyes. Left to his own devices, Wilczek has a much more pastoral folktronic sound, equally reminiscent of the aforementioned Clark and Dwayne Sodahberk’s second, superior album. Combined with Robertson’s sterile, disturbing vision of supercute zombies filtered through Alien Syndrome, the work as a whole strikes me as deeply melancholic and curiously affecting. There is no subject in these videos, only objects, and it strikes me that Robertson incidentally accomplishes what eluded Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick in AI (a movie that would itself work much better without dialogue): an evocation of a world where only our toys survive to carry out a degenerate pantomime of conscious existence.
(On a tangential note, for another, very different example of someone using gamer and anime culture to produce deeply personal pixel art, check out Jennifer Diane Reitz’s Unicorn Jelly. Almost nobody takes me seriously when I make this recommendation, but if you can get past the somewhat slow and obtuse beginning, you’re in for a novelistic experience of incomparable metaphysical depth. It’s very user-unfriendly, but it genuinely changed me, which is more than I can say for almost any other webcomic.)
I know some music nerds who seem to live to amass a hoard. They, like me, have stacks of CDs covering every flat surface, and connive to find ways to fit more CDs into more places in their houses. Most of them share a problem in common, and that problem is one I try very hard to avoid: they’ve lost track of what they’ve acquired, and it’s entirely likely they have a big pile of music scattered around that they’ve never heard.
That sort of thing makes me itch. Music is a thing to hear and to experience, not to collect and sit on like Smaug, the greedy dragon from The Hobbit, was with his stolen gold. Since I’m not a professional critic, I pay for my music myself, and music claims the biggest share of my disposable income. If I buy music, I want to get my money’s worth out of it.
One of the most useful side effects of ripping my entire CD collection was that it gave me tools for tracking information about what, when and where I buy music, and helps me make sure that I actually hear everything I buy. I make heavy use of iTunes’ smart playlists to help me give equal time to my collection, and one of the main things that drove me to upgrade to a new MacBook Pro was that iTunes was getting so bogged down in dealing with the hundreds of playlists I’ve created that it was taking minutes (literally) to do trivial tasks, and syncing my iPod was taking half an hour each time.
These tools come with their own problems, though, which is that periodically I get overwhelmed by buying too much new music at once. It happens. I don’t really have a list of new releases I want, because for at least the last ten years I can walk into and out of a record store in under a half hour having spent an uncomfortable amount of money and not having to look too hard to find a big pile of stuff I absolutely must have right now. As I gradually make the transition to buying music online, resisting the temptation of immediate gratification only gets harder.
So last year I came up with a solution to the problem, which was yet another set of smart playlists that I used to create a music budget. Capping my spending on music isn’t really a concern to me, at least right now: I’ve got a good job, no car and few vices aside from music shopping. No, really it was about trying to make sure that I wasn’t buying more music than I could get to know. After looking at my listening habits over time (something for which last.fm is extremely helpful), I decided about 24 hours a month was a good cap.
The idea is a good one, and it’s definitely helped, but I’ve also blown the budget more often than not (I’ve also come in way under budget a few months, in part to balance out the months where I get out of hand).
It is my sad duty to report to the world at large that January 2008 was not a good one for my music budget, as I added, um, 3.5 days’ worth of new music to my iPod. Oops. Even after last night’s Amazon & Interpunk orgy, I ended up downloading these releases from Bleep and Boomkat after Bleep suddenly fixed my Clark order:
- Clark: Throttle Promoter (Warp)
- Amon Tobin: Kitchen Sink: Remixes (Ninja Tune)
- Autechre: Untilted (Warp)
- Autechre: Draft 7.30 (Warp)
- Autechre: Quaristice (Warp)
- KTL: KTL 3 (Mego)
- Æthenor: Deep in Ocean Sunk the Lamp of Light (vhf)
For somebody who used to claim he didn’t like Sunn(((O))))) very much, I sure do have a lot of their side projects. And now my Autechre collection is complete again. But either way, I’m sort of hoping I can ease up for a month or two, both so I can assimilate all the new stuff I’ve gotten, and so I can make some progress in listening through my collection, which is what I’m supposed to be doing for this blog.
Clark’s Turning Dragon is a vast, immediate, atonal monster of a techno record. The first half, in particular, is probably the finest half-hour of hard techno released since Surgeon’s Klonk. The album starts out with a short field-recorded ambient intro, and then warps (ha!) itself through a series of thudding hard techno rhythm loops, oversaturated noise-ambient interludes, diced R&B and disco samples splattered all over the mix, and Clark’s instantly recognizable downcast melodies, all fused into a seamless whole. Things calm down in the second half, but it’s still heavily beat-driven. The net effect is like moving between rooms at a very large, very loud and very postmodern warehouse rave, and it seems to me that this was the effect that Clark was looking for.
Chris Clark spent a bunch of time on tour after he put out his last full-length album, Body Riddle – his first under the shortened name of Clark – and it shows. Turning Dragon, for all its excess and outsized energy, is a concise and taut record that has obviously been refined by exposure to the dancefloor. There are parts of Central and Eastern Europe where the kids still want dance music to make the obvious dancefloor gestures – prominent kick drums, reverb, stabbing synths, meandering acid lines, everything compressed to hell and gone – so it’s not so surprising that Clark came back from a European tour sounding more like Chris Liebing or Umek than his beardy labelmates at Warp.
Something similar happened to fellow Warp alumnus Speedy J a few years ago (to which I alluded in my previous hyping of “Volcan Veins”, which is still my favorite track on the album), but Speedy J got so wrapped up in making an album that perfectly mimicked the “schranz” style Liebing made popular that he ditched most of the elements that made Speedy J sound like Speedy J. Clark doesn’t repeat that mistake – there is no point on this album that is not obviously Clark music. The combination of his sharp ear for atmosphere and the telling detail with straight-up techno and electro rhythms makes for a stunning, deep album. And techno albums that work as coherent wholes, rather than collections of tracks, are precious because they are rare. Only time will tell if this stands up to my personal choice of high-water marks, Surgeon’s Force+Form, but it’s off to a good start.
In the alternate world where thudding European techno is (still) being dropped on heaving, roiling dancefloors in American Legion halls in small towns across the Midwest and every major city has a Technodrome right next to the basketball coliseum expelling crowds of sweat-soaked, euphoric clubbers every Sunday morning, Clark’s “Volcan Veins” (released today on his new album, Turning Dragon, on Warp) is entering the charts at #1, where it will tenaciously hang for the next six weeks. Good gravy, I didn’t think anyone was still making music like this. Sounding like nothing so much as an exceedingly messy yet propulsive blend of Jackson at his nastiest and Speedy J’s from-out-of-nowhere heavy techno flawed-masterpiece Loudboxer, “Veins” also reminds me of Neil Landstrumm’s “Gigolos Trapped in Retro Hell”, Kiki’s “Gas126” and some of User’s more alarming Moroder-on-bathtub-speed disco loops. Which is to say that it’s a grainy, oversaturated chunk of High NRG disco-loop fury, and is exactly the sort of thing that makes me regret having hung up my slipmats. This is some seriously whacked-out dancefloor business and it ends the only way it could – by collapsing into a murky black hole of distortion and echoes.
Don’t believe me? Listen to the second track in this album sampler. I already tried to buy the whole album through Bleep (the samples make it sound fucking fantastic, but I sort of expect that from Clark at this point – his last album, Body Riddle, was a nearly flawless slab of loud bedroom techno), but they sent me a ZIP file containing only the liner notes. Thanks, guys.