There’s not a lot that can be done in the field of recorded sound to shock audiences—short of actual sounds of murder, pretty much every noise that can be heard has been manipulated or synthesized. Be it the sound of a jumbo jet on take-off or a sheet of scrap metal being hit with a ball-peen hammer, there is nothing left to be done. The expressionists won these wars, and their reward is a gradual and dulled acceptance. Over the course of the previous 30 years, Einsturzende Neubauten evolved from percussive outlaws on the angry fringes of punk into one of the most sophisticated and literate pop outfits in the world. Throbbing Gristle and Skinny Puppy are practically museum pieces. Who’d a thunk it?
Certainly, the world of electronic music is all the better for the death of decorum. In a medium limited only by the state of technology and the artist’s imagination, there is nothing to be gained through obeisance to propriety. Not without reason is Matthew Herbert one of the most exciting musicians alive: anyone willing to experiment with everything from agricultural machinery to a full jazz orchestra almost has to be doing something interesting.
Vancouver-based Secret Mommy has devoted the entirety of Very Rec to something similarly, albeit subtly provocative. Instead of picking and choosing selected found-sound samples, he has approached the concept with a great deal more thematic rigor. Every song on Very Rec is built entirely out of sounds relating to specific recreational activities—hence the title. The result is simultaneously childish and yet strangely concise, a puckish devotion to conceit taken to willfully absurd extremes.
It would be foolish to deny the virtuosity with which Secret Mommy manipulates the samples which compose the album, and it would furthermore be churlish to insist that the light-hearted results are not a refreshing rejoinder to the seemingly ample supply of self-important techno producers who produce unerringly minimal and resolutely humorless music with clockwork regularity. But such a frenetic, scattered aesthetic can easily take a toll on the listener’s patience.
Secret Mommy operates on a pronounced policy of “nothing loops more than twice”, which has the effect of making the record extremely difficult to parse. Which is not to say that it’s more or less eventful than comparable releases by artists such as Kid 606 or Aphex Twin, merely that the focused nature of the project’s sound palette creates a sense of effected sparseness that effectively limits the boisterousness that usually propels these kind of projects.
Many of the tracks are less actual songs than cut-and-paste sample collages. “Daycare” chops a generic children’s TV program in much the same manner as the Prodigy chopped a public safety announcement for the immortal “Charlie”. There are some Timbaland-esque beats combined with childlike nursery sounds, bringing the Aphex Twin comparison more forcefully to the forefront of the listener’s mind. “Yoga Studio” is only a minute and a half long, and exists primarily to contradict the relaxing voice of a yoga instructor with basic IDM static.
On the album’s better tracks, such as “Tennis Court” or “Ice Rink”, Secret Mommy has a field day creating intricate rhythms from the obvious and not so obvious percussive sounds of those particular milieus. But even those tracks, as interesting and well-constructed as they are, barely rise above the level of curios, conceptually sound examples of fine craftsmanship for the digital era. Of some note in terms of the sheer chutzpah with which Secret Mommy tackles the restrictive challenge, but the results are only intermittently rewarding.