Lowbrow High Art
When you call your debut LP Tipped Bowls, you’re pretty much setting yourself up to be considered “high art”: something that comes off as impenetrable and rarified. Taragana Pyjarama – which is the alias for Danish producer Nick Eriksen – does reach for some high flautin’ concepts across the 10 tracks presented on the album, but Eriksen’s apparently not above getting a little 8-bit here and there. You will hear on a few songs the “warp” noises along with the 1-UP and coin collection sounds lifted from the original Super Mario Bros. And that’s on top of a sample of a record reaching its very end. In a sense, Tipped Bowls is less an arty record than one that revels in listeners of a certain age’s nostalgia for all things that come from the ‘80s, which essentially means that one’s appreciation of this album might be heightened the closer to middle age you are. To be sure, there are elements here that will be familiar to those who follow electronica – there are pieces that are synchronous with Justus Köhncke’s “Timecode” – as well as to those who have appreciation for more experimental pastures. There are the sounds of water dripping. Ultimately, though, Tipped Bowls is an album that reaches for dual polarities – those that you might find in an art museum and those you might find in an antiquated video game system gathering dust in your basement or attic – and admirably succeeds for the most part in bridging those two gaps.
If one thing is for sure, Tipped Bowls is a disc that works as a bit of a narrative in itself. It is a collection of sterling images that sonically paint pictures in your brain, making it a great album to simply lie back with and listen to on headphones. Opener “Four Legged”, a collaboration with fellow Scandinavian producer Chllngr, is a heady trip of North woods mysticism, something that would seem appropriate for the cottage with the sun rising glacially over a misty lake while your Labrador is taking an early morning bath. That leads effortlessly into what is one of the album’s highlight songs, “Growing Forehead”, which features a giddy female vocal that intakes a breath, a pregnant pause if you will, for more than two minutes of the track’s runtime. It’s a chilly, languid track of looping keyboard lines and clattering effects that will almost, almost, elicit the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up straight. It is also one of the few songs with any vocals, provided by Kicki Halmos, which sound staggering Kate Bush-like, giving it a certain level of artistic ambition. That lopes well into “Lo Ng”, which sounds like the long, lost soundtrack to an old-school Nintendo action game, with all of its bleeps and bloops coming to the fore in all of their 8-bit glory. Throughout its nearly six-minute length, keyboard washes gradually keep being added, just to keep things from sounding too repetitive. And, to be sure, the Köhncke influence is particularly present here, but Eriksen suitably crafts the material to be militaristic and driving, preventing it from being merely a “Timecode” knock-off.
While this may make the album seem seemingly frontloaded, the furthest couldn’t be the case. “Pinned (Part I)” features all kinds of slippery drums, swirly keyboards and video game samples. “Balibat” is a random collection of keyboard notes jarringly pieced together, again with the same tonality that you would find in the arcade. In a sense, the whole thing seems like a wide-awake dream, or least one for those children of the ‘80s, such as myself. The title track features backwards tape slippery trickery lopped against the sounds of various percussion elements to create a dreamy soundscape, and this is where Eriksen gets a little more artier and ventures into almost ambient music – if ambient music was the sound you might hear in a hospital kitchen, rather than by the bedside. Closer “Terror Paradise” is a wash of warm keyboards that sound both light and penetrating, and dark and menacing (almost summoning in the apocalypse with klaxons going off in the background), befitting the track’s name. All in all, Tipped Bowls is a very nearly excellent piece of accessible electronica. Nearly excellent.
In an interview with XLR8R, Eriksen admitted, “I knew I wanted the record to be a bit random, have mistakes and stuff. I like when things are a little bit messy in their arrangement.” Well, that’s a slight flaw when it comes to something as digital and clear-sounding a genre piece as Tipped Bowls. There are a couple of glitches here that are not glitch-pop in the least and sound like bad editing errors. Most notable of this is “Growing Forehead”, which begins to fade out only to hiccup back to life, marring the song’s effect. “Lo Ng” features the sound of a needle looping against a vinyl record at its very end that seems to drop out in the middle of the segment. These slight blemishes don’t take away from the overall power and impact of Tipped Bowls, and while they don’t seem to be admirable in their imperfection, they merely suggest that this is a producer who still needs some room to grow and mature. When all is said and done, Tipped Bowls is quite the heady trip into both the past and present of the electronic form, and suggests that particularly great things could come from the hands of this producer. Tipped Bowls is listenable, even with all of its artier flourishes, and quite the enjoyable suite of music that might take some of us back into their childhoods, glued in front of the flickering pixels of the TV screen. While Tipped Bowls does have its “mistakes” and flaws, it is still intriguing, a statement that might not exactly merit a place in the Tate Modern, but is revealing in its artistic license nonetheless.
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