Static: Re: Talking About Memories

[8 January 2006]

By Tim O'Neil

Admittedly, I am easily impressed. But regardless of my relative gullibility as a reviewer, it’s hard to deny that Static comes equipped with an impressive resume. Static—AKA Hanno Leichtmann—has worked with the likes of To Rococo Rot, Lali Puna and Pole. These kind of connections, practically a guided tour of some the very best alternative electronic music currently available, create the expectations that Leichtmann’s solo work will inevitably follow in the footsteps of his peers. Thankfully, these expectations are more or less accurate, and the results on Re: Talking About Memories are never less than thoroughly enjoyable.

Leichtmann’s approach to songwriting draws a deft connection between fragile minimalism and a somewhat more accessible pop sensibility. In other words, the tracks are designed to fit the mold of conventional mid-tempo pop, but constructed to resemble something more restrained and ascetic. To get an accurate idea of what Static sounds like, it would probably help to think of something along the lines of Zero 7 or early Morcheeba, only replacing all the lush, well-orchestrated pop parts with scratchy blips and sparse, starkly-recorded instrumentation. This is a CD that imparts the sensation of a great deal of room: there’s probably more going on in any given song than it sounds like, but nothing is crowded. Every individual sound has enough room to breathe comfortably. Whereas production work from folks like Timberland can sometimes seem impossibly packed, Leichtmann is an expert at unpacking deceptively complex sounds to laudable effect.

The album opens with “Return of She”, cowritten with To Rococo Rot’s Ronald Lippok. This is a good introduction to both the album and Leichtmann’s sound, featuring the same counterplay between tightly-coiled, almost IDM percussion and languid melodic elements. The beat is soft enough that it doesn’t dominate the mix, allowing the pseudo-electro beat to carry a hint of mellow tension without overriding the impact of the more intricate melody. As with To Rococo Rot, the intricacy of the melody belies the song’s essential simplicity—there are a number of different harmonic elements hear, but the effect is wonderfully holistic.

Leichtmann’s voice, on display on “Return of She” as well as his cover of the Assembly’s “Never Never”, is distinctive enough without being distracting. The first thing that comes to mind is Bright Eyes—the manner in which Leichtmann over-enunciates (probably to make up for his very slight accent) brings to mind Conor Oberst’s marble-mouthed delivery, albeit with a much more smooth timbre. The overall effect is slightly reminiscent of Neil Tennant’s distinctive talk-singing.

The album flows along at a fairly consistent tempo. Even the more uptempo numbers, such as the Orbital-esque “Shift, Smash, Surge, Swell”, carry themselves with a delicacy that almost obviates the skittering breakbeats—there’s plenty of room left for the jazzy trumpet and subtle hammond organ gestures. “Point of Hope” is another vocal showcase, unfortunately marred by Leichtmann’s evident limitations as a vocalist. He at least gets props for not pitch-shifting his voice with Pro Tools.

Those with a jones for mellow, well-heeled electronic pop will find much to like on Re: Talking About Memories. If the album has any faults, it is just not very ambitious. It aspires to nothing more than understated, perfectly-crafted pop moments, with nary a psychedelic hoe-down or guest rapper in sight. If it seems like a slightly small achievement, it is probably merely a sign of just how strange a virtue modesty has become in our modern music scene. An album that doesn’t aspire to change the world with every song—what a nice change of pace.

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