He starts to climb the stairs. But tediously the paradox comes back: Expect the one you do not expect. Very well; but must every beggar then be treated as a prodigal son, embraced, welcomed into the home, feasted?
—J.M. Coetzee, The Master of Petersburg
The above quote can be found on the inlay of Volume One of The Arrivant, Moov’s latest venture into the world of intricate programming and inventive instrumentation as applied to electronic music. It’s the perfect set of words to describe the tracks on the two volumes that comprise the entirety of The Arrivant—each track a beggar, seeking shelter and a hot meal from its listener, interesting as it tells its story, but destined to be a memory by morning.
The Arrivant Volume 1
US: 25 Apr 2006
UK: Available as import
The Arrivant Volume 2
US: 25 Apr 2006
UK: Available as import
Moov is the project of one Tony Gudwien, the man solely responsible for every single sound you might hear on a Moov album. Moov’s first album, Tracks, was released a mere six months ago, and weathered a small bout of criticism. The majority of Gudwien’s critics found it a bit presumptuous that an artist would release a double-CD debut, not to mention a double-CD on which the total time of the tracks is 78 minutes long, short enough to fit on a single disc. A mere six months later, Gudwien has released The Arrivant, really a double-album in concept that he has released as two separate albums, perhaps to combat that previous wave of criticism, perhaps to squeeze a couple extra bucks out of a curious record-buying public. Regardless of the reasoning behind separating Volume 1 and Volume 2 of The Arrivant, it’s clear that Gudwien intended The Arrivant to be a more focused effort than Tracks, if only from the directness of the former’s title. As it turns out, however, The Arrivant is nearly as scattered as its predecessor, even if the two volumes are thematically quite distinct from one another.
Volume 1 could be called “the one with the beats,” as it is very much song-oriented, with most of the tracks in the three-to-five minute range, and with only one track over seven. In a simple scan of the tracks on Volume 1, it’s tempting to try and find a narrative storyline, as many groups of tracks seem as though they could be mini-suites. Opener “What Are You Expecting?” is followed by “That’s a Good Question”. The last two tracks are titled “A Long Walk in the Brutal Cold” and “Possible Warmth” respectively, and then there’s the possible trilogy of “Chess With Death”, “I Tried”, and “Do it Again”. The only two that are actually related to one another musically are “A Long Walk in the Brutal Cold” and “Possible Warmth”. The former is a slow mélange of popping, icy electronics; the latter is something of an epilogue, retaining some of “A Long Walk…“‘s synth work, but adding lots of horns and extra “tropical” percussion that give “Possible Warmth” the sunny feel of its title, even if the combination of those elements ultimately adds up to dissonance, perhaps explaining the tentative nature of that same title.
Everything else here is a fairly random stab at straight-up electronic music making, with a few “organic” instruments thrown in (all of which are also performed by Mr. Gudwien) to liven things up. “What Are You Expecting” tosses us an Autechre-like bone (from back when Autechre liked actual beats, anyway) by presenting us with one set of beats, introducing a much darker, slower synth motif, and then combining the two to create something far more interesting. “Do it Again” is fun in a jazzy sort of way, what with its muted trumpets and other horns that are probably synths, but still add a solid, summery texture to the song. Most impressive, however, is “Disquieting”, which actually sounds a lot like a Moby track thanks to its sharp, layered piano sound, even though it adds some Depeche Mode synths eventually and turns into a dance track. Much as I’d like to give it a more descriptive genre label, Volume 1 is simply electronic music, sometimes hitting on IDM, techno, pop, and ambient, but never sticking with one style for all that long. It’s scattered and quite unfocused, but all well-made and rather enjoyable.
If Volume 1 is an electronic grab bag, then The Arrivant‘s second volume is the ambient-experimental disc. Featuring only four tracks, two of which actually break the 15-minute barrier, there are very few beats to grab onto here, save for “The Plodding Chase”, which may feature lots of twists and turns, but still turns out to be as boring as its title makes it sound. “Is Someone There?” sounds a bit like the stuttery inside of a clock, while “It’s Not Clear” is just a bunch of atonal synth hits and random noises. Some potential exists for the final track, “And Gone”, but it ends up swirling into a miasma of string synth noise that neither makes sense melodically nor atmospherically.
Electronic ambience is a difficult thing to master, as repetition can work in the right context, as can atonality, but there has to be some sort of specific human emotion peeking through to allow the music a relationship with its listener. None of Volume 2 achieves this relationship.
Moov is a talented programmer (and, from the sound of it, multi-instrumentalist), this much is clear. What he has not allowed for himself, however, is the time necessary to take what he composes and make a statement out of it. He’s still producing “tracks”, as it were, even as The Arrivant looks and smells like a concept album. It’s not. Those looking for some solid percussion programming and interesting instrumental choices might find Volume 1 to their liking. Unfortunately, Volume 2 is too intentionally obtuse and cold to recommend to much of anyone.