You can't sound brooding or even vaguely sinister while singing "Apple pies / Apple pies / You're all eating apple piezzzzzz."
The body of 2012 is barely even cold, and many music fans are still going through the last of their "best of" 2012 lists or just starting to get a little bored of hearing Grimes again. Eyes turn toward the sun rising on a fresh horizon as the releases of 2013 march toward us. Labels, of course, have been busy for the latter months of 2012 preparing their new year release schedules and we start the cycle all over again. I've made a promise to myself this year that I would file away the records that impress me in a growing list that I can evaluate at the end of the 12 months. You see it happens sometimes that when a record comes out early in the year it's long forgotten by years end. For !K7 records, that may well be the release of a brand new full length from Vienna-based duo, Tosca.
We can only hope Odean is not a harbinger for what's to come musically in 2013. It's a very dark record -- darker than anything they've done before. They've always been downtempo and comatose-chill but without ever dipping too far into the gloom pool. On this record they're drowning in it. The phat, punchy breaks that are signposts in a Tosca records are replaced here with subtle, at times ambient instrumentation and bluesy, soulful vocals.
"Zur Guten Ambience" begins with some ambient chords and a bird chirping in a way that birds don't usually chirp. I am no ornithologist but if I heard the same patterns in the park, I'd be looking around for fluctuations in The Matrix. It's more distracting than soothing and sets a tone, whether intended or not, of things being just slightly off kilter. As it never really moves beyond this, I felt that three minutes was a little too long. This will be the first casualty of playlist pruning.
Appropriately, we move into "What If" featuring the gentle vocal caress of Sarah Carlier asking us "What if every game was won or lost before it has been played? / What if it was not the case?" The vocals are laid out over a repeating acoustic guitar pattern reminiscent of Massive Attack's "Teardrop" but the similarities end there. It's this second track on the record that has a more 'intro' feel than the first, setting us up for much of what's to come. Sadly, it's the last we hear from Sarah.
I once played with a recording program on my home computer. I got my hands on some cool vocal effects and I wanted to hear what I sounded like and explore the depths of the truth that I am a writer, not a musician. I found myself whispering the vocals out of a combination of insecurity and an irrational fear that my neighbors might have glasses up against the wall, chuckling. The result of these "sessions" was not unlike JJ Jones delivery on "Heatwave" -- whispered in a way that seems to say he doesn't mean it. Tosca tosses some synth skeets into the air and then JJ brings the dramatic earnestness. The song works as a straight-ahead pop track with a soft bass drum inspiring a bit of a toe-tap.
The music behind "Jayjay" was the most accessible by far but again, the vocals were just a little too cheesy for me. They occupy a space somewhere between early Dave Gahan and Marilyn Manson's crooner from the black lagoon on "Minute of Decay". You can't sound brooding or even vaguely sinister while singing "Apple pies / Apple pies / You're all eating apple piezzzzzz." There's another ambient interlude in "Soda" and then we get what might have been a more typical Tosca track on "Meixner". The mood of the vocals succeed on this track and when the beat drops on the three minute mark it carries you nicely over the hump of the record.
"Cavallo" stood out to me as the highlight of the record. I found myself really hoping that the great lazy rhythm of it wouldn't be marred by more guest vocalists. It is. Fortunately, it's the the low growl of almost spoken lyrics which works really well -- the most convincing delivery so far. Unfortunately, our journey is almost over now. Sure, there's another song in "Bonjour" but it ends the way the record came in -- this time with ambient shimmers and ghostly choirs over an arrhythmic heartbeat.
I respect what they've done here and they may well find a new audience among ambient music fans but having fallen in love in 2012 with Brian Eno’s LUX, or Fennesz's AUX: The Beginning of the End of All Things I found Tosca may not have gone deep enough. The ambiance didn't move me as much as I might have hoped. Though it's a well-produced record overall, it failed to hook me. When you come to a Tosca record, you come to wind down. It is music for a dark room and Tosca turns out the lights as soon as you arrive at this particular party and I think they might have dimmed them too low. There's not even the familiar pillar of an easy breakbeat to help you find your way and in the end it may be so dark that we stumble.