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Metrovavan

Retrofitting

(Darla; US: 11 Sep 2001)

At first it’s hard not to associate a musician with what he or she has done in the past. Metrovavan is a project of Scott Twynholm, one of the members of the gorgeous electronic-pop outfit Looper but, here on Metrovavan’s debut album Retrofitting, the Looper comparisons don’t go far past the first track, though both bands share affinities for playing with the merging of beats and tunecraft as well as a habit of floating their songs into beautiful places. That first track, “Space Shadows”, does sound a lot like Looper to my ears, yet that’s not a bad thing either. It’s a funky, blissful instrumental which uses synthesizers, beats, laser beam noises and, most importantly, a perfectly crafted bridge that takes the song in just the right direction. From there on, Twynholm takes Metrovavan in all sorts of interesting directions, most of which have only a tangential relationship to his other band.


The two songs here to feature singing are both mellow ballads. Twynholm’s voice sounds quite similar to Lloyd Cole’s, but he doesn’t share that man’s affinity for cynical love ballads. These two songs both center on space imagery, but from different ends. Where “I’m Glad I’m Not a Spaceman” is a statement against travel that extreme, “Behind the Last Star” is a dreamy but vivid description of life in space. Elsewhere on Retrofitting, Twynholm shows his love for hip-hop, not by switching gears and becoming an MC or DJ but by carefully gliding his tuneful pop melodies over old-school-style hip-hop beats. That mixture works wondrously, giving the songs personalities all their own.


Some of the songs that don’t have beats or rhythms that are overtly hip-hop nonetheless utilize that genre’s omnipresent technique of sampling. “French Lesson” samples just that, people speaking French, while “La Machine Ne Marche Plus” brings in other French speakers to repeat a few lines. Other tracks build less from hip-hop than from similarly rhythm-based styles of music like dub reggae (“Red Hose Swing”, the final track) or more club-style music (“Keep Breathing”). In all cases, the beats don’t take center stage but are part of a bigger musical picture, one including bits of guitar, piano and other instruments, all throwing in pretty bits of tunes to build a cohesive wall of radiance.


Metrovavan’s music seems based on experimentation, though the result isn’t what you’d consider avant garde. Twynholm is playing with his favorite sounds, genres and instruments to see what attractive creations he can come up with. Retrofitting covers all sorts of musical territory but all the while taps into a certain sweetness and otherworldliness which is incomparable.

Dave Heaton has been writing about music on a regular basis since 1993, first for unofficial college-town newspapers and DIY fanzines and now mostly on the Internet. In 2000, the same year he started writing for PopMatters, he founded the online arts magazine ErasingClouds.com, still around but often in flux. He writes music reviews for the print magazine The Big Takeover. He is a music obsessive through and through. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.


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