With a moniker that puts it in a spot on the shelf in between AFX and Aphex Twin and cover art that’s strikingly similar to the Hangable Auto Bulb CD re-release, a casual observer might mistake Alog’s latest release Amateur for one of Richard D. James’ myriad projects. In actuality, the music contained on Amateur is a rather far trek from that of James’ typical contribution to the world of electronic experimental music; rather than an amalgam of processed beats and ghostly synths, Alog is utterly experimental. Traffickers in sound rather than song, Alog is constantly on the search for new ways in which to express itself, whether through the discovery of a new object that could work as an instrument or an innovative way to use a traditional instrument (both exploits that Mr. James, regardless of his lack of affiliation to Alog, would probably appreciate).
There is a prerequisite required to listen to Alog: patience. The listener must be fully willing to accept an experiment as an experiment, and to ride it out until completion. Only then will that listener be prepared for something as preposterously slowly developed as “Bedlam Emblem”, a ten-minute-plus excursion into electronic ambience that slowly forms out of a quiet wash of watery static. It’s a lovely track, really, but it simply takes so long to get going that it will frustrate the impatient, who might be tempted to skip ahead to the five-minute mark, where the melodic patterns are in full swing and the full beauty of it is just starting to reveal itself. To do so, however, is to lose the effect of that form taking shape, which is just as valuable — it happens so slowly and so gradually that you can barely notice it at all — it’s just something that sounds as though it’s always been there, waiting for you to notice it. Alog’s execution here is just as patient as the listener has to be, and the final draft of “Bedlam Emblem” reflects the quality that can come with patience.
Of course, a different sort of patience might be required to enjoy something like “Sleeping Instruments”, which may as well be silent for most of those listening at a reasonable volume; comprised mostly of what sound like the atmospheric noises generated from blowing or stroking various instruments without specific purpose, appreciation of this track can only be obtained if you’re willing to go along with what could easily be seen as a flawed premise: that nigh-inaudible atmospherics can still be used to create a mood. That as soon as “Sleeping Instruments” ends “The Beginner” chimes in with a loud, piercing alarm clock via bell tones and high-pitched guitars doesn’t help the listener’s appreciation of the former.
Still, “The Beginner” is one of those tracks on The Amateur that, maybe, doesn’t require so much patience. It’s immediacy is made obvious from that very first second of its existence, only pushing its rapid-fire chiming harder as its six-minute progression continues, adding various whooshes and extra bell noises. It forms a drone out of myriad parts, and it’s utterly fascinating. Similar things could be said of “Son of King”, which opens the album with lots of cut-up vocal snippets and an odd stop-start synth melody. It’s easy to hear it as annoying, but it’s hypnotic in the way it invites you to hear words and melodies in what is, at its most basic level, gibberish.
As with most albums of this ilk, some of the experiments go awry, and most aren’t really affecting enough to truly be worth writing about. “The Future of Norwegian Wood”, for example — which, if the album art is any indication, might have been constructed from samples of hammers hammering nails and saws cutting what is presumably some Norwegian wood — is creepy in its ambience, but sort of boring once you get past the novelty of its construction. Despite the hit-or-miss nature of the album, however, Amateur is a worthy effort for Alog, brave in its construction and devoted to its experimental aesthetic.