[23 November 2009]
The most impressive thing about the band HEALTH is their sense of style. Their music’s great—inventive, challenging, energetic—but if everything else about them didn’t exude so much cool, we might lump them right there next to John Zorn and Boredoms in the “really obscure” aisle. Onto something, for sure, but not exactly a group of guys we’d want to drink some PBRs with after the show, and being “blue-collar” noise experimentalists is certainly a huge part of their individual brand.
Pictureplane looks as cool as HEALTH. Cooler, even; he’s into the whole ‘80s design-meets-minimalism thing, but he moves it towards the ‘90s in a way that is never uncomfortable (think this shirt). Fuck you, Stereogum commenters: Travis Egedy has got style.
If Dark Rift brought it weak, maybe I could understand the vitriol towards him—hell, if Is This It sounded like Nickelback we’d have given the Strokes shit for their then-radical style—but few good artists don’t have some sort of unique motif, and Pictureplane works well on the whole.
Egedy’s debut album—last year’s wonderfully titled Turquoise Trail—rightfully stayed under the radar. An interesting look into the style that Dark Rift so much better explores, Turquoise Trail showed Egedy’s interest in thick house beats and dense layers of sound, if it was a little too all-over-the-place to tolerate for its hour-long run time. The standout cut “Flashion (You Designed My Mind)”, though, showed exactly what he was capable of when let himself stay still for awhile instead of jumping from idea to idea.
Although “Flashion” might remain his single finest moment, Dark Rift finds Egedy putting together a great album all the way through. Stylistically, the album lands in that late ‘80s/early ‘90s area that Pictureplane is all about, bringing to mind ‘90s house as easily as ‘80s italo-disco. It’s rarely a challenging work, but it always sounds fresh; that rare combination that comes by once in awhile and has the potential to reach outside of just its own scene.
That said, if you exclusively listen to Elliott Smith b-sides, you probably won’t be rushing to pick up Dark Rift; it’s a dance album, no doubt. There’s no song on the album that I’d advise you to leave out if you’re putting this on at a party (even Crystal Castles had “Tell Me What to Swallow”), and in fact I’d encourage you to let it play all the way through. No song on Dark Rift really stands out above the rest.
To some that might not qualify as praise (where do you start? I’d say “Flashion”, again), but it’s refreshing to see after his spotty but promising debut. No song on Dark Rift may be especially fantastic, but no song on the album is anything less than great, either.
That’s not to say the album gets samey; Egedy explores new sounds on each track and they’re all carried by different beats. “5th Sun” stays in time thanks to a DFA-style hi-hat and catchy keyboard line; “Cyclical Cyclical (Atlantis)” blazes by while bouncy synths surround the beat; and “Time Teens” sounds like one of the more generic cuts on the album before breaking it down with electronics that wouldn’t have been out of place on Merriweather Post Pavilion.
By the time the nine-minute album closer, “True Ruin”, rolls around, you won’t be reaching in to hit the skip button (something that nine minutes of 2008-style Pictureplane might have required). You’ll be glad to hear it out and start the album again. Unless, of course, you’d rather stay behind the times. I’m told the ‘80s were so chic yesterday.