There was a time in electronic music—perhaps you remember it—where one of the appeals of the genre was that it sounded positively like nothing else. Synths that sounded like synths, squelches and pops that did things to your speakers that had never been done before, beats that would take at least three drummers to reproduce ... these were the hallmarks of the genre, and many artists wore them like a badge. Richard D. James created his own electronic instruments for the sole reason of coming up with noises that nobody else had yet. Autechre has made a living out of making machines talk to each other in increasingly difficult, unrelatable ways. Even the more melodic and song-oriented proponents of the genre like Orbital and Underworld left elements in the music that classified it immediately as electronic in origin.
While this approach would appeal immediately to fans of the genre (of which there were many when those particular artists were at the height of their powers), it did present a problem as well: by immediately labeling the music as “electronic”, one loses the ability to evaluate it as anything but. The music is pigeonholed before a single note comes from the CD player. Perhaps this is the reason for the more modern move to making electronic music that’s not immediately identifiable as such. By incorporating acoustic instruments, traditional melody structures, and pop constructions, the music can be judged as “music”, rather than “electronic music”. Such is the case with Kim Hiorthøy’s latest work My Last Day, an album so expertly constructed around its more organic elements that it’s easy to forget that the artist is a lone knob-twiddler.
The problem, then, is that the construction of the album doesn’t leave a lot of room for noticing the actual songs that Hiorthøy has written. Honestly, there’s not much to notice. There’s a track here called “Goodbye to Song”, and it’s a wispy little thing with some violins thrown in for texture, but just as it gets going, it starts over again with a different theme. And then it ends after three minutes, and for what? A quick blast of forgettable pleasantry? Develop any one of these themes for three minutes, and maybe you have something worth exploring, but it just doesn’t do anything. “Beats Mistake” is the same way, with its organs, pianos, and Boards of Canada-style drum programming. The only thing that separates “Beats Mistake” from anything else in the genre is a sample that shows up toward the end that shouts “Let’s get butt-naked and fuck!”, which comes off as nothing more than juvenile and unnecessary.
Interestingly, it seems that Hiorthøy saves his best moments for the tracks with Norwegian titles. “Den Långa Berättelsen Om Stöv Och Vatten” is a lovely little bit of piano noodling that also doesn’t go anywhere, but at least it treads water in an interesting way. “Hon Var Otydlig, Som En Gas”, for its part, is a fun little minute or so of acoustic plucking. On the English-language tip, the opener “I Thought We Could Eat Friends” is a fantastic bit of synthpop noodling, sort of like how Dead or Alive would sound with no vocals, better beats, and Paxil.
I’d imagine it’s easy to get caught up in the production of an album, giving it a specific sound and sticking with that sound over 10 or more tracks. In this case, Hiorthøy’s work is masterful at finding a happy medium between the organic and the electronic, walking a thin line while never falling into the rut of making the same song 11 times. Still, it’s as if Hiorthøy spent so much time making My Last Day sound great that he mistook that achievement for making something that was truly memorable. In this, My Last Day never quite succeeds.
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