The first thought that will probably go through your mind in reference to this album (besides the fact that the guy has an Angelfire page—I didn’t know they still made those!) is just how dated it all seems. Perhaps dated is too harsh a word ... perhaps it would be more a propos to merely say that it seems to be concerned with evoking a very specific time and place in the history of electronic music.
It says something about the very nature of electronic music that musical styles are so rigidly demarcated between “now” and “then”. There is no real penalty (save from elitist critics) for rock and roll artists who compose music in the style of their forefathers. The Black Crows don’t get demerits because they want to sound like Exile-era Stones. So why should I hold it against Venetian Snares that he wants to sound like late ‘90s Aphex Twin?
Venetian Snares is the alter-ego of the brilliantly named Mr. Aaron Funk. He’s released a number of different projects over the years, but this may be one of his most stridently ascetic. There aren’t any recognizable samples included herein, and there aren’t any vocal parts or weird animal noises. Every sound seems to have been conceived in a purely digital environment, gestated and brought to term in a gleaming steel womb before being born screaming and bloody into a hostile and nauseating world.
“Huge Chrome Peach” begins the album by setting a reassuringly frenetic pace. This is old-skool IDM of the most consciously intellectual type. Everything is conceived in percussive patterns. The melody lines, such as they are, are delineated in short staccato movements that compliment the clanging chaos of the mechanized drill & bass beats. “Bonivital” begins with the introduction of a more elegant (elegant being a relative term) melodic pattern, a warped synthesizer riff that reminds the listener of a broken player piano running through a ragged Bach sonata. It sounds mournful, but perhaps this is only in comparison to the gleefully manic rhythm section?
Which brings us nicely to the crux of the matter. I see the same problem with Huge Chrome Cylinder Box Unfolding as I had with a great deal of ‘90s IDM. I like it, I don’t want there to be any confusion about that. But at the same time I am at something of a loss as to how to react to it. There’s something resolutely impish about the genre that works to discourage any sort of genuine emotional connection. You are supposed to admire it, not inhabit it. The desired response is a knowing smirk.
Planet Mu’s owner and operator, Mr. Mike Paradinas (the mastermind behind the µ-ziq project) has had a hard time wrestling with this dilemma himself. His work has long been at the forefront of the IDM movement, but he stands apart from peers such as Autechre and the aforementioned Aphex Twin with his long-established willingness to temper the genre’s traditionally hostile ascetic nature with a hybrid tenderness.
The reason that Huge Chrome Cylinder Box Unfolding is such a willful anachronism is that it ignores all advancements the genre has made since around 1997. It’s no longer considered groundbreaking to fill your music with grinding, unearthly textures at the expense of human emotion. Autechre have acknowledged this dichotomy by continuing to create music that is progressively inhuman, glistening artificial constructs with every indicator of human presence sucked out by a perfect vacuum. On the other end of the scale, the genre has been influenced by the rise of groups such as Boards of Canada and the artistic transformation of Squarepusher, both of whom have influenced a new generation of artists to use the previously ominous tools of IDM to create startlingly personal expressions.
The quirky, hyper-intelligent math-rock represented by Huge Chrome Cylinder Box Unfolding is a style that has seen its heyday come and go. Tracks like the majestic “Destroy Glass Castles” are, like their forebears, interesting sonic puzzles that ultimately leave the listener unfulfilled. Perhaps this is why the album’s most satisfying track is “Aaron”, a slight melodic exercise featuring twinkling bells and sustained harmonic tones. It’s a little bit odd and a little bit ominous, but it’s also probably the most honest track here.