A Fan’s Notes

alt="Frederick Exley"Are you just a fan? Frederick Exley of Watertown, New York not only saw himself as an eternal fan, but managed to turn this underling status into a fictional memoir that fills some 380 pages. Exley was a born escapist, amateur no-hoper and herculean drinker. He was also a heavy smoker, and this was back in the days before puffing away merrily equalled social leprosy. All this considered, it takes a serious set of balls to scratch an ill-conceived life onto over 300 plus pages. A life that was spent in and out of a State Hospital for the mentally insane, interspersed by periods of languid introspection on sofas (often referred to as a Davenport in this book).

alt="A Fan's Notes"

I discovered this book at what appeared to be the right time in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t smoking or drinking heavily, but I was undergoing a partly self-inflicted malaise. I was 12 months clear of a relationship I hadn’t had the stones to free myself from. I was still attached to the idea that hard-boiled love is better than a draining hunger for companionship. Plus I’d just made a narrow escape from a sales job I sucked at. Dreams of writing, and of watching those who did, sealed the failure of all attempts at selling.

So I was glad to discover this book. Frederick Exley called it a fictional memoir. The book begins with the narrator experiencing some kind of alcohol-induced bout of acute anxiety which Exley takes to be a heart attack. At the time of reading I felt I was there every step of the way, through the fear of certain death, to the elation when he realised he’d been spared. I also felt a blow when the nurse at the nearest hospital tells Exley he ought to quit drinking. Only for a few seconds did I believe he’d actually go sober for that period onwards. Drinking heavily was necessary if Fred Exley was to maintain even a basic show of normality.

“Unlike some men, I had never drunk for boldness or charm or wit; I had used alcohol for precisely what it was, a depressant to check the mental exhilaration produced by extended sobriety.”

I remember reading this line and thinking, you’ve nailed it perfectly. This is way too long to be used as a tagline for advertising alcohol, but it’s still golden prose.

To add to his appetite for escape, there’s also the narcissism he used to shield himself from the inevitable disappointments of life.

As yet another generation of modern readers lose the battle for their own attention spans, I would recommend getting hold of this book before the marbles dislodge entirely. It does the whole striving after failure thing incredibly well.

Octopus4 – The Algorithm

Intro

I’ve managed to sit myself down again for another musical digest. Will it be as long as the last one? Answer is, it’s always difficult to tell, but here goes.

alt="Octopus4"

As with any follow-up album, the critic needs to be equipped with a fresh (and dare I say new) set of ears. To save undergoing expensive, lengthy and traumatic surgery, one simply has to undertake a metaphorical disassembling of one’s previous hearing instruments, followed by a timely acquisition of appropriate replacements. My new ears met with Octopus4 in the same way that someone discovers an underground bunker-cum-nightclub replete with delicious sound and the promise of a morning warming up from euphoria-induced goose pimples.

autoRun

The initial pulse of this track produced a mental image of bacteria splitting and reproducing. I often get such images from listening to instrumental tracks, with one such experience involving an experimental rock album and a multicoloured DNA strand animation playing just behind my eyes until I had to recover privately. I don’t know what this is, but it’s both beautiful and unsettling. Like the tracks that follow, the pace and build up is perfectly timed to give the listener a taste of Gallego’s vision.

Small note: As I didn’t mention this in last week’s review, I think it’s important to mention the drummer, Mike Malyan, and also the man who masters the tracks, Tim Reynolds. I can only imagine the intensity of discussion for a musical collaboration of this nature.

So then, this track keeps the balance of an audience-influenced *Live Music Approach, with the craftsmanship of something designed to be interpreted on a very personal level.

* – I feel a Live music approach is creating a track as if you were feeding from the imagined reactions of an audience who are in your head when you write.

The subtle drum and synthesizer work jumps in and lays off in just the right places. One very important thing to say about this in comparison to the first studio album. It signals the beginning of a work that is less metal than Polymorphic Code. It seems to be that these tracks are generated from a more dance / breakbeat part of Rémi’s mind.

discovery

The second track has quite a Mitch Murder meets Jean Michel Jarre and they make computer game soundtracks feel about it. That’s until it doesn’t, shifting gear into a time signature I haven’t figured out yet. Then it moves into a layer of rhythmic overdrive with a soundscape of synth. If you’re a drummer (air or real) the next section will have you demonstrating your skills in public, even if they’re deemed socially unacceptable. It’s a good time to point out that this album has more of a live drumming sound to it. And I’ll say that even though I may be right off the mark. It’s just plain intuition / observation. Long story short, it won’t disappoint.

_MOS

This track gets to the point almost instantly. It almost has the flavour of a sample or gateway to what follows. At 1:57 it’s probably safe to say that a good many people will also come to this conclusion. Despite the brevity here, it’s one of my favourite pieces on Octopus4. It’s also on full computer game mode. For example, if you want to feel like you’re flying a virtual fighter jet through cumulus clouds full of gremlins playing bagpipes, then this track is probably for you. Furthermore, at the 35 second mark (I’ll call this section the pre-chorus) the drum lead-up is exquisite, building tension that’s almost distracting if you’re trying to keep an eye out for your train stop.

will smith

This track appears to have nothing to do with the bad rapper, passable actor, and man who crowbarred his son into the film industry, the honourable Will Smith. Or maybe it’s ironically dedicated (which could account for the lowercase spelling). This track does evolve rapidly, further confirming The Algorithm’s place as a real talent-engine when it comes to fusing multiple genres into one sequential, melodic and compelling package. My favourite part of this track comes about one minute in, then at 2:40. The one minute in section is a bit of tribal prog, whereas at 2:40 a tasteful groove kicks in with some crystal-sharp little touches to lend to the overall mix. I must admit, I didn’t like the opening much, but it shifts so quickly that I was impressed. This goes to prove really, if you don’t like what you hear in the first 30 seconds, you probably will in the next. Again, by and large, I have to say I rate this track.

ピタゴラスPYTHAGORAS

It’s unlikely I’ll ever paste a blog section heading like this again, so I’ll revel in it a little. ピタゴラスPYTHAGORAS teases with an opening section that’s rich with attacking kick drum and tom fills. This underpins high-pitched synth notes which fall in line with the hit of the kick drum. Together, this gives the feeling of objects falling into place beyond the outer walls of some kind of factory full of eccentric night shift workers. There’s more, in the form of a complex melodic network operating alongside the two aforementioned features. The percussion build up and subsequent climax from 2:35 onwards pretty much confirms this track is another winner.

synthesiz3r

I’ve lost count of the amount of words I’ve ‘Added to dictionary’ today. This tracks maintains the momentum of what is a largely energetic album. The introduction is absolutely stellar. At 1:05 it breaks into a variation on a gangster rap groove. This small section on its own is a turning point for the album, reinstating (and I don’t think this can be mentioned enough) that part of The Algorithm’s artistic ethos is to create rhythmic and melodic pathways between previously disparate genres.

damage points

This distinguishes itself from the preceding tracks by starting with a loose, almost broken beat (where bass and snare samples attack at random). This emerges into a cohesive and original groove and synthesizer arrangement, which by itself could easily occupy me on a train ride through the noise-filtered London smog. Then Wam!, drum and bass, before combining the broken rhythm with the synth-groove arrangement. If listened to carefully, you’ll notice a cyclical pattern of motifs, which I think is where this track gets its strength from.

void

I believe this track channels Jean Michel Jarre quite keenly. If you sit with this on long enough in a darkened room with a whisky and soda water, you may imagine you’ve begun a transition into another bodily form. It’s distinctly meditative. The faint sample of an instructional video for some kind of data computing process? adds an eerie quality. The overall sound and texture is ambient, trance-like, created to convert one’s mind from formerly active to a sort of passive, weightless intoxication. A good feeling if you’re suited to opiates like me.

loading

A deliberate link from ‘void’, ‘loading’ has the shape of a computer game adventure / eventual battle montage sequence. It is a pocket-sized musical journey. It’s references to the great gaming composers adds to a need to advance this medium structurally. Given what the following tracks have in store, the album now truly begins to take the shape of a computer game narrative.

un dernier combat

I’ve Google translated this one. It seems to mean ‘One Last Fight’, or ‘A final Combat’. From a narrative point of view, it signals a climactic point of aggression between a set of characters or opposing elements. As well as a return to previous motifs, such as the drop-catch rhythms heard in previous tracks, this also features French rapping towards the end. As my grasp of this particular language is, let’s say, very limited, I relied on the sound rather than the meaning of the words to form my critical reading of this track. Overall, not one of my favourites, but there’s so much more to compensate, that it qualifies for a fifty-fifty rating.

recovery fail!

The penultimate track on the album, ‘recovery fail’ has an untameable quality about it. During many parts of this track it has real prodigy feel. By 1:46 it moves from sinister little compositions to a fantastic section with voiceover breathing samples. It ends with meandering, bubbly keyboard and electrically charged sound effects to an effective and immediate stop.

octopus4

The final track is the closest you’re going to get to a four-on-the-floor beat. Despite the East Asian influence, this could be confused with a pop song. Not for long, because terrestrial radio stations would explode the split second it sounded remotely unprofitable. If you found any other sections of this album not to your liking, then the final offering will help to tie things up perfectly.

Outro

I didn’t originally like this album beyond the first three songs. I’ll admit, I was pretty shallow about the whole collection. But on repeated listens, and having listened again in detail for this review, I’ve changed my mind significantly. It is a swift reminder of the continuous invention running through this, and the previous album.

The Algorithm

Intro

Rémi Gallego the genius

alt="Remi Gallego"

Clearly it has been an age since I cast words into the web void. That’s why I’ve decided to go from famine to feast with a molecular breakdown of an album I am developing a ‘healthy’ obsession for. The album is Polymorphic Code by electronic music space inhabitants / dominators The Algorithm. Although this music project truly touches upon a lot of sub-genres (dubstep, drum and bass, trance, IDM, mathcore, djent, progressive metal), let’s just play simple and call it all electronic.

My plan is to follow this post with a gentle turfing over of Octopus 4.

I feel I need to personally thank the master behind this project, Rémi Gallego, a French (wow!, you mean the name didn’t give it away?) musician who’s created the melodic equivalent of a cure for sitting still. It’s musical ADHD designed to aid and abet the distraction pandemic currently burning too many generations to categorise effectively in this post.

If you’re the kind of person who finds themselves endlessly flicking between tracks, then now you have a reason not to feel guilty for doing so, because the chances are, if you listen to The Algorithm, the music is already one step ahead and has beaten you on the pea-sized attention span stakes.

Polymorphic Code

alt="polymorphic code"

‘How the hell was this album patched together and pulled off so effortlessly?’ you may find yourself asking until the answer requires an essay. Despite it being a multi-generic musical soup, the opening track:

Handshake is tweaked tastefully to prevent it from sounding like a shape shifting organism. The opening few seconds are ghostly, conjuring images of an alien presence hovering just behind the veil of a horizon. The message is fairly clear: something’s coming and it doesn’t care what’s in the way. The door opens on a shape that takes around 25 minutes to emerge.

Beyond this semi-formed shape is a blast of machine-gun bass drum kicks, with synthesizer arpeggios leaping in broken rhythms. The sound is always full, constantly changing, and permanently about to reach a climax that will invariably pass on to some other pattern, theme or phrase. Distracted yet? Somehow it still works, but how? My guess is because this Frenchman doesn’t wake every day to hear the world as many people do. The world of sound and of noise is chaos-ridden, and it’s his job to shape it. To add to this, he links the tracks (and indeed the entire album) by:

A – Consistency of melody (helping to draw your attention away from the continuous genre shift)

B – Consistency of rhythm (knowing full well how rhythms from even very different genres have a significant crossover potential)

C – Linking the tracks together using music motifs (I made this term up on the spot, but it’s basically when a particular phrase is played quietly early on, then used as a focal point down the line).

Despite the constant shift, this music has been carefully worked out (unsurprisingly even more so than a simple pop hook). And yet, these tracks are littered with hooks. Hook after hook after hook, so boredom is no longer an option.

Bouncing Dot

This track is a musical game of pass the parcel involving only two players. Player 1 is drummy and bassy and trancey and likes chilling while their mind casually fills in the gaps left by a soft pulse and simple beat, while Player 2 is pissed because someone told them that a bucket of hundreds and thousands isn’t an acceptable musical breakfast. Just in case you’re wondering, Player 2 isn’t so laid back. They’re a bit of a screaming, sprinting one arm push up on legs. They also hate Tom Selleck (sorry for this recurring theme, but who hates Tom Selleck?, only nubes).

Life note:

Having refreshed myself with a bike ride through sheets of cutting rain, I am now ready to complete this blog post.

Around the 3 minute mark this track begins to slow down, a fact which would please my fictional Player 1 more than the frantic, muscle-bludgeoned Player 2. The tension then builds to a final climax of bleepity bleep and metal riffage. Then a little motif comes in, a suggestion of what’s coming directly after.

Trojans

To say that this track is one for drummers does, and also doesn’t work. The initial snare work will bring about goosebumps among certain members of the percussion community, but pretty much every track features impressive drum work. The unique Algorithmic approach of creating tracks that seem to span off in many directions yet have the symmetry of an ice crystal, features again here. The opening sequence soon moves into djenty riffs and rhythms before negotiating a host of other genres and returning, characteristically back to its djentist roots. In my opinion it’s one of the best tracks on the album.

Access Granted

The djent exposure in the previous track is magnified in the opening of Access Granted. At first I found this to be too much, until, like my curry breakthrough period, I came to love its nihilistic intensity. To keep things interesting it flips back and forth between styles, still preserving coherence with a seamless brilliance I haven’t comes across before in music. Some aspects of this track can only be expressed by actually setting up my drumkit and demonstrating how they’re executed. Given the restrictions of the blog medium, I think I’ll stick to words and just say Access Granted is manic, caustically rendered, organised chaos.

Logic Bomb

I’ve repeatedly made a mental note to mention that exactly between the 28th and 29th seconds there’s a drum roll used to sex up part of the introduction. I know this observation is going to galvanise my music-nube status, but what the hell, I’m one of a global bevy of skinny, nervy, musical eclecticist-analysts. Although I want to pick holes in the transition that comes next, I found myself humbled by how slick it is. It moves to a breakbeat before, if you can map this in your eardrum, winds up and takes off through techno, then almost all of the previously mentioned genre / sub-genres.

Warp Gate Exploit

This reminded me off Deadmau5 until around 2:05. Then it’s a domino-line of power chords and arpeggios (sort of twinkly-winkly sounding). It takes a person who has seen a small number of almost capable DJs (so can I ever be the right judge here?) to say that Rémi Gallego, in true DJ style, knows how to pace a track, an album, a musical entity. His experience is stark, with an album that will keep well for years to come. The final section of this track is atmospheric breathing space. Electronically or otherwise, some sort of feedback / harmonic / violining? sound effects are combined with brooding synth. This is soon joined by multiple finger snap samples and a beat which I’ll describe as the one that Massive Attack use a hell of a lot. The end result? A perfectly balanced piece of musicianship.

Null

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a fan of Null. Rather I’d say that I was so impressed by everything leading up to it, that the track was coloured by the success of all that came before it. But it’s still good, which should indicate to you that even my least favourite tracks on this album seemed to have something in them. One last thing about this one. It did seem to indicate clearly its intention of being the penultimate track on Polymorphic Code.

Panic

It’s in the name with this one. I say that because most people would probably have to study for a special set of qualifications to understand the meaning of various titles on this album. This track really races to finish (a bit like me after having written almost a 1300 word review). It starts quite trancey, then moves on to an IDM flavour. The it’s off to something like a band going nuts at the end of a gig / if you turned up both the speed and volume on an arcade game. Just listening to it again now reminds me how much I want this album to be the all consuming computer game soundtrack for generations to come.

Outro

Whatever anyone says about this album, there is one thing that is undeniable. It’ll take you on a journey. It’ll also make its intentions clear from the outset. In the category of potentially deniable, it may even nudge some concrete trancers over into the djent camp, or vice versa. This kind of music is perfect for potential or existing musical eclecticists. More importantly though, this album achieves that thing a perfect album should. It sounds like one piece of unbreakable work, where if a track is taken away, it’s tragic, and yet each track is its own accomplished little album.