When you spend an insanely long time working on something, don’t you want to know that all of your work was necessary, that not a single moment was wasted? Of course you do. This is the principle that makes Alias & Tarsier’s latest EP, Plane That Draws a White Line, forgivable.
The story goes like this: In creating Brookland/Oaklyn, the full-length incarnation of this particular collaboration, Alias and Tarsier spent the better part of over a year and a half e-mailing each other back and forth, creating an album with each other without ever really having to verbally communicate with each other. At a mere ten tracks, that album evidently didn’t represent the full spectrum of all that Alias and Tarsier put together over that period of time. Enter Plane That Draws a White Line, an EP that serves the dual purpose of allowing Anticon to release the leftovers from the album proper, and also release a few remixes of selected tracks from Brookland/Oaklyn, including one remix that was languishing on Alias & Tarsier’s first release, the Dr. C 12″. It all wraps the collaboration up in a nice, tight little bow and gives everyone involved a sense of closure.
This closure will especially come in handy for an audience who, after absorbing the disconnected, disaffected, and ultimately disappointing full-length, might have seen some potential for the future. Specifically, any goodwill the duo had built up with that full-length will be summarily tossed out the window.
Title track “Plane That Draws a White Line” is, for its part, a decent way to spend four minutes. Over some typical skittery beats and atypical (for Alias, anyway) acoustic guitar, Tarsier breathily intones lyrics of lost innocence amidst melancholy imagery. It’s relentlessly pleasant for all its sorrow, and Tarsier’s Beth Gibbons-meets-Björk voice rises above the realm of wallpaper, if just barely. Alias adds some nice syncopated synth noises and gives and takes with the texture just enough to keep it interesting, making it one of the better tracks on Brookland/Oaklyn. Not surprisingly, perhaps, that makes it by far the best of the non-remixed tracks to be found on the EP that shares its name.
The rest of the new songs honestly do sound like leftovers. Alias is predictable, Tarsier is just kind of there, and there’s nothing here to engage a listener, much less have that listener’s head nodding or brain thinking. It’s the worst kind of background music; that is, the kind that gets annoying after not all that long because of the constant buzz of air that accompanies Tarsier’s voice. Sure, she puts down some much-appreciated xylophone noises on “9:24 Cigarette (Version 1)”, but there’s just nothing to the rest of the song — it’s a feather floating on the wind, pretty as it happens, destined to be forgotten mere seconds later.
The remixes are most notable for the possibility that they add a third party to this idea of collaboration without association — it’s entirely possible that, like Alias and Tarsier themselves, none of these remixers actually spoke to either of the primary artists, that they were simply e-mailed a pile of tracks and told to do their respective things. The high-BPM overhaul that Boom Bip gives “Plane That Draws a White Line” is actually pretty neat, and worth hearing if you’re a fan of his, and Odd Nosdam totally cLOUDDEADs “Ligaya” up, to the point that there’s very little left of the original, including the vocals — he’s the only one who dared mess with Tarsier’s voice, where most of the artists here were far more comfortable simply giving Alias’s production the once-over. On the other hand, whoever thought that green-lighting Neotropic’s utterly monotonous eight-minute take on “5 Year Eve” was a good idea should be out of a job.
The EP’s grand prize goes to Healamonster, who draws on his own past experience working with Tarsier and draws up the perfect backdrop for her, complete with well-placed pianos and a propensity to give us something interesting to listen to in the backing track, even when Tarsier is singing. It’s an approach that actually points out the fatal flaw in the relationship between Tarsier and Alias — the two were so reverential of each others’ work that they spent most of their time staying out of each others’ way. By offering a production job that stays consistently engaging throughout, Healamonster gives us an idea of what Alias should have done, right next to a pile of tracks that demonstrate what he (and a few of the remixers along for the ride) shouldn’t have done, but did anyway. If Alias and Tarsier ever team up again for an encore collaboration, maybe talking to each other in the studio once or twice wouldn’t be such a bad idea.