Steve Fisk: 999 Levels of Undo

Steve Fisk
999 Levels of Undo
Sub Pop

Because as an indie godfather Steve Fisk has seeped up so much adulation, it is easy to forgive his fallibility as he enters this stage of his career as an ambient technician. As a member of SST Records’ Pell Mell, Fisk left an indelible mark on the then burgeoning Northwest music scene. As a producer Fisk has gained the most acclaim, putting unique stamps on records by artists as diverse as Beat Happening, the Weddding Present, Low, the Screaming Trees, the Posies, the Halo Benders, and, of course, Nirvana. Since 1993 when Fisk formed Pigeonhead with Shawn Smith, Fisk has attempted to translate his progressive production work into even more challenging electronic music. 999 Levels of Undo shows that Fisk’s transformation is still a work in progress, but when he’s on, the record is right up there with any of Fisk’s other accomplishments.

“My Head Popped” is a bit too Orbish for my taste (I admit Alex Patterson has never been my favorite). The pulsing beats are attacked by a woman’s screams and a computerized vocal as the whole piece unravels in a computer-spoken dialogue that is none too inventive (remember the early Macintosh program that said whatever you typed?). “Aviation Oakie” adds hip-hop breakbeats to a flappy pseudo-jazz melody.

Really nothing to write home about until “Time, Speed, Language”, which melds vicious looping, lo-fi percussion and vocals and organs which fight for vie for the title of most anxiety inducing. It’s nasty but delectable stuff. “Amateur European” is a moody mess of artfulness, a keenly ironic jab at Fisk’s own mimicry of Euro ambient genres, using furious beats and tape splicing to destroy the formerly serene underpinnings.

After that pair of stellar tracks, Fisk begins to falter as the only promise on “Where’s the Fire?” is that it hints at the volume upon volume of disposable tracks Beck released before regaining his focus on Odelay. “L’Estancia” sees Fisk revert to the trippy meditations on noise of before, but feels too self-conscious and indulgent to move the listener anywhere. The same can be said of “Polymorphic Light Eruption” whose timid guitar does little to wash away the grimace that the trumped-up title inherently elicits. At least 999 Levels of Undo shows that Fisk is not content to remain a static, complacent cult favorite. Kudos are warranted for his desire to continue experimenting with sound and using his most refined production as a template for his trials, but finishing as a second-rate Orb is hardly a condition with which most Fisk fans will be satisfied.