Pricier gear and a five-year break don't keep Lineland's latest from becoming a ho-hum genre exercise.
The Audio Dregs label isn't known for signing artists who set the world on fire, but it's kept the quality control high and managed to carve out a sweet little niche for itself. Looking for super-cute electronic bubblecore? Here's their website. Although Pavilion, the debut full-length from Lineland (the one-man band of Malcolm Felder from Queens/Chicago), barely registered as a blip on anyone's radar screen, it was the quintessential Audio Dregs release. Felder worked with strictly electronic instruments that tended toward the childlike and playful and scattered the record with sneakily catchy hooks, while roughing up the textures like a punked-out Lullatone. "Charming" is the word that springs to mind. But electronica's movement toward electro-acoustic hybridization in the 2000s left Pavilion in the dust; heard today, it sounds as though it was destined to be underappreciated.
With Logos for Love, Lineland jumps off the trampoline and follows in the footsteps of electronic acts like Nobukazu Takemura and Clue to Kalo who have switched to a more "serious" acoustic-based direction. He's acquired better gear and has been working on new material since 2006, after briefly putting the Lineland project in mothballs. And Logos for Love certainly sounds professional; the instruments come through so crisply that it's a wonder how the record didn't cost a small fortune to produce. If the instruments are programmed (the album makes no mention of who played what), they certainly don't seem that way. And it's to Felder's credit as an engineer that Logos for Love doesn't feel like a pastiche. Witness how "Northside" brings syncopated percussion, exotic guitars, and sweet violins together in mellifluous symbiosis, each instrument weaving through the holes that the others generate in the sonic fabric. It's far too short -- Mice Parade would have found a way to stretch it to three times its length -- but it's a disc highlight and an exemplar of Felder's talented way with a computer and musical equipment.
What's missing from Logos for Love is a sense of purpose and a je ne sais quoi certain something to keep these tunes from going in one ear and out the other. Songwriting was never Lineland's greatest strength, but where Pavilion contained enough memorable moments for listeners to grab onto, Logos for Love is practically hook-free. That's a significant problem because for all of the new sounds emanating from Lineland's machines, there isn't enough flesh to justify the paucity of ideas. Surely Logos for Love is a polished record, but it isn't a rich one, and when one lukewarm track transitions anticlimactically into the next, it leaves me feeling sort of empty.
Finding reasons to listen to the record is difficult when I'm having trouble figuring out why Felder made it. Barring the unlikely possibility that he just wanted to show off his new computer and set of mics, it may simply be that Felder has grown up, and that he felt the twee whimsy of Pavilion wasn't age-appropriate anymore. Be that as it may, he's regrettably left his sense of winsomeness at the playground and neglected to breathe life into his compositions. The three songs from "Northside" to "Alchemy" make for an above-average streak, and "Emerald Board", with its diced organ and backmasked guitars, contains some appealing surfaces. But full-length numbers "Am-Track" and "Lakeside" are throwaways, and when Lineland ventures outside of his comfort zone into saggy indie rock territory ("Pat Garrett", "Hollywood Graves"), Logos fails. Nice production alone rarely saved any record from the dustbin, and while Pavilion's unassuming charm and winning singles helped it to achieve unsung cult status, Logos for Love lacks the punch and substance to keep it within collective memory.