A common misconception about electronic based music is that if it isn’t being played in a dance club with a couple hundred sweaty bodies out on the floor shaking their asses to it, then it isn’t worth hearing. A shame, considering that there have been just as many albums that don’t feature four on the floor beats and fat bass lines that are steeped in electronica that don’t require you to do anything but listen. Certainly Kraftwerk, one of the earliest purveyors of the electronic music medium, got this point across well with their classic Autobahn album released in the early ‘70s. The German based outfit would also go on to forge cornerstones of techno and dance music, and be sampled by tons of DJs and rappers.
So from those early phases of electronica came such basic elements of techno, which itself then split off into a myriad of forms like ambient, transient, drum & bass, jungle, house, acid jazz, and countless other mutations. The electronic artists who didn’t feel comfortable within the confines of a typical house groove, with its faceless vocals, stock piano riffs, and a steady BPM that had as much to do with disco as it did Kraftwerk, would often settle down into the more esoteric genres such as ambient that allowed the composer to create a sonic work much like an abstract painter might do with his canvas. Music to sit down and ponder upon, create your own images for and draw your own translations from. Brian Eno was one of the first to work with ambient textures, releasing albums like Music for Airports in the mid-‘70s.
A myriad of artists have followed those blueprints throughout the decades since. Transient, from Philadelphia Pennsylvania has recently released The Conceptual World Is Losing Its Grip. This is another thing that should certainly be addressed about the electronic music medium. There are often concepts within the albums and sounds that attempt to bring about a message of the world, its people, and even the universe coming together as one and breaking free from societal constraints. Perhaps this is an ironic trait, given that some music purists would argue that electronica is not relevant simply because it isn’t played out on organic instruments. Within the machine made music the message of unity and understanding exists. The purists scoff, pondering just how something like that could be. After all this time, one would think that these detractors would finally give it up. After all, there have been countless horrible albums created with guitars and drums.
So how does Transient’s music stack up outside of the club? Well enough, though this album does tend to peter out before the ending arrives, a plague that often accompanies such albums. Oft-times, the best tracks will be shifted towards the front of the disc, and that certainly seems to be the case here. Opening with the title track, the album begins on a lush note, with plenty of quick, scattershot beats and an East Asian melody that is both transfixing and influential enough on the old toes to set them tapping. This then blends into the track “Current 2” that seemingly does the undoable by taking what sounds like an old cheap Casio or Yamaha keyboard and making it sound terrific. The melody line that is played off the instrument has those old tones similar to those musical doorbells that were once all the rage.
“Winter Eyes” pursues a lush tone, exposing a harp-like melody line, slower rhythm, and strings and buzzing noises that alternately shift about the aural picture. The interestingly titled “It’s not for you, it’s for the cat” starts out rather annoyingly, sounding like nothing more than some old video game music gone berserk, before finally settling in on a bouncing melody full of squiggles and what sounds like electronic water droplets. Give Transient credit for trying out different things on all these tracks, even if the sounds themselves come across as a bit too similar, in that they keyboard tones and beats don’t seem to vary too much even though the tracks as a whole do tend to branch out in different directions.
Still, the whirring, buzzing beats and swirling tones of “Geooeg” make for pleasant listening. However, “Animal Laws” with its repeated, sped up vocal sample declaring “Animal laws have survived it again”, The Conceptual World starts to lose its own grip on the listener as the tune seemingly regurgitates all the tracks that came before it. By this time, the slippery beats have been used up and the electronic squiggling doesn’t seem to break any new ground. The nearly nine minute “Night Vision” continues along, though, on the same patterns of doorbell-like tones and mechanical beats. Perhaps if this album had just been a five track EP it could have been stronger, but the latter half of the album only echoes the first half, and weakly at that.
Transient does pull one more trick out of its hat before the disc ends. The jazzy “On the Edge of Time” features some nice piano melodies and a soulful groove. And that is exactly where this album should have ended, rather than going on back into “Algae” that repeats the earlier formulas, and “Intermission” whose drum beats sound too distorted and bombastic.
Had Transient had a little more differentiating tonal and melody work going on here, then this album could have been successful throughout. Unfortunately, only the first half is strong before going into an autopilot setting and backtracking over itself. There’s nothing bad at all about the music itself. It is enjoyable and provides a good backdrop to driving around or sitting around and reading or just relaxing. But it would have been nice had it expanded just a little, allowing its palette to continue along the path upon which it began. The Conceptual World Is Losing Its Grip is pleasant enough without being terribly groundbreaking.
// Notes from the Road
"José González's sets during Newport Folk Festival weren't on his birthday (that is today) but each looked to be a special intimate performance.READ the article