[16 July 2001]
It’s remarkable how much the concept of D.I.Y. in music has changed over the last 25 years. Around 1978, things were very different for my first bedroom-band—the cringe-inducingly named Percy Faeces and His Amazing Vibrating Aardvark. Myself and John Sullivan (who later actually learned to play the guitar and achieved his 15 minutes of fame with British indie-poppers the Snapdragons) made do with Tupperware containers, paper and comb, a beat-up acoustic guitar, crowd noise taped from soccer matches on TV, a vacuum cleaner, and an antediluvian cassette recorder. Such hi-tech equipment was brought to bear on tracks like “John’s Vacuum Cleaner” (a cover of the Instant Automatons’ classic), “Exercising My Authority”, “Do Not Cement!”, and “Deformed”, a minimalist translation of Hendrix’s “Freedom”.
These days D.I.Y. is a very different kettle of fish. People are still making music in the privacy of their own bedrooms, but computers have of course impacted that process in ways that Percy Faeces never imagined possible. I Am the World Trade Center’s debut album, Out of the Loop, is a case in point: Dan Geller (co-boss of the Kindercore label) and Amy Dykes—who are the World Trade Center—recorded, mixed, and produced the whole project on a laptop. The Brooklyn-based couple has fashioned a surprisingly refreshing and playful album’s worth of electronic dance-pop.
Even so, there is a fundamental ambivalence to the novelty of this release, as it always stands with one foot in new technology, one in nostalgia. As Mark E. Smith once said, “the experimental is now conventional”, and IATWTC’s reconfiguration of the “studio” and the recording process itself isn’t exactly novel any more. And neither is the duo’s sound for that matter—myriad loops and samples pasted into the mix alongside more conventional instrumentation.
Although Out of the Loop is very much a product of today’s ever-expanding digital environment, it displays the kind of retro nuances that have become commonplace in certain variants of contemporary electronic music. Random bleeps and squelches, the simulation of surface noise from old vinyl, and lots of unidentifiable samples—many poached, according to Geller, from ‘60s pop records—gesture toward a distinctly analog past.
More pervasive on Out of the Loop, however, is an ‘80s feel, as much of the album is imbued with the kind of synth sounds that abounded when the instrument was first being integrated into chart-friendly electro-pop. Thankfully, Geller uses that component in such a way that it never sinks the tracks into complete kitsch, but simply keeps them fun. This is evidenced by “Metro (Brooklyn Mix)” and the instrumental “Flute Loops”, as well as the mildly funky, flute-looping “Move On”, while a more contemporary dancefloor feel pervades tracks like the driving “September” and “Look Around You”, with its bigger beats.
Numbers like “Holland Tunnel” and the dreamier “Aurora Borealis” recall Luscious Jackson and nicely emphasize the sing-song quality of Dykes’ vocals. Geller makes his only vocal contribution on the hypnotic, sitar-sampling “Inside Your Head”, which evokes the work of electronica artist Malka Spigel. The odd-track-out here is the minimal “Analogous”, a fragmented, more downbeat instrumental that borders on experimental territory, with changing paces and a harder, metallic edge to the beats.
IATWTC has been compared to Saint Etienne and, to a certain extent, tracks like “Sounds So Crazy” and “Me to Be” do evoke the latter’s sound. But although Amy Dykes’ vocals have the same airy feel as those of Sarah Cracknell, the overall musical component doesn’t quite match Saint Etienne’s knack for sustained melodies and hooks. That’s not intended as a criticism, but as an indication that IATWTC takes quite a different, less-polished approach. The pair’s sound collages are more lo-fi in design and execution and, as such, they eschew the kind of seamlessness, lushness and clean production that characterize much of Saint Etienne’s work.