When you hear the music of COH, do you start salivating? Wait -- I'm getting my Pavlovs mixed up.
COH is the work of one man, known as Ivan Pavlov (different than he of the famous dogs, of course), who can lay claim to the dubious distinction (shared, regrettably, by artists like Thighpaulsandra and The Inflatable Sideshow) of being at least as renowned for his associations as for his music. One half of his latest release 0397 Post Pop sees something of an acknowledgement of this, as disc two (the "97" disc) is a re-release of COH's first album, a limited edition of seven that was given to, as the press release puts it, "inspirational friends". These "inspirational friends", of course, likely included other artists such as John Balance, Peter Christopherson (both of Coil), and Steven Stapleton (of Nurse with Wound) given the hints in the track titles. Even as this disc would appear to rely on such associations, however, it would seem that 0397 Post Pop is as much an exorcism as a thank you. Pavlov is trying to tell us that yes, of course he does associate with these people, but they do not define him.
And honestly, he does a pretty decent job making such a bidirectional declaration.
The music of COH is an exercise in experimental electronic minimalism -- little things like melodies and beats, the things we often take for granted as part of our music listening diet, are often sacrificed in favor of pops of static and whirs of quiet, controlled feedback. The "97" disc, besides being Pavlov's first album, is something of a mission statement, a way for Pavlov to tell these "inspirational friends" what they meant to him and lay out some of the possibilities for his career ahead. "97" is an enthralling listen, surely, but there's an indefinable something that sounds a touch strained, a bit eager to please, as it were.
It's difficult to articulate just what it could possibly be that makes this unique sort of static-as-music sound "eager to please", but hints lie in the song titles. For example: "Steep Staple Tone" is a rather obvious reference to Nurse With Wound's Steven Stapleton, likely one of the seven in Pavlov's original audience. Now, Mr. Stapleton makes some wholly unclassifiable experimental music, the only common thread in which often seems to be the ability to startle and/or perplex the listener. Likewise, "Steep Staple Tone" is the quirkiest thing on "97", taking a quick, abrasive set of noises high on the treble and turning them into a rhythm, effectively driving them into the ground via constant repetition. There's a "bonus" track (that is, not on the original issue of this album) called "Scotch Sleaze", which could very well be a reference to Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson, and "C is for Sleep" is a slight modification of a similarly titled Coil song. All of the homage is nice for those in on the jokes, I'm sure, but the presence of so many obvious title-based homages keeps the music itself from taking center stage.
Which, I suppose, might even be the point, given that the music on "97", while unique, never quite manages to capture the imagination the way "03" does.
The "03" disc is composed of material that was supposed to be a studio album, but the first seven tracks of it "may" be a live recording (neither the liners nor the press materials make this terribly clear) from Austria. The fact that it's supposedly a live recording is interesting, given that as a whole, it's much more cohesive an album-length statement than its earlier studio counterpart. The tracks meld into each other as if the whole disc, "live" and "studio" tracks alike, were conceived as a whole, with track divisions added later for the sake of appeasing the masses and their short attention spans.
Even given the single-track feel of "03", however, it's on this disc that the "Post Pop" in 0397 Post Pop actually seems to make sense. While "Da Kota Rap", despite its name, is as abstract as anything on "97", it does feature an identifiable sample -- the somehow appropriate inclusion of Mia Farrow singing the "la la la" theme from Rosemary's baby. As the disc progresses, the menace increases, but so does the accessibility, as bona fide techno beats make their way into the mix, along with some low bass tones that, in some circles, might actually count as melodies. As one might expect, the three-and-a-half minute "Untitled Smash Hit" is the highlight if one is to be found, as the beat gets beefed up the most over its short length and some of the nicest of those unexpected melodies crop up, if briefly. Closing track "Starlust" also provides some excellent new sounds, bringing the whole experience to a necessary climax. "03" is, ultimately, the sound of Pavlov shedding his influences and using his own musical voice.
It's tough to recommend a disc like 0397 Post Pop to a general populace that mostly doesn't have a taste for this sort of music -- this album will do nothing to change the unconverted's mind. Still, for the already initiated, it's another piece of the fascinating puzzle of Pavlov's recorded work thus far.