Music

Lithops: Queries

Electronic music dates quickly, and IDM -- even precise, focused IDM -- dates even quicker.


Lithops

Queries

Label: Sonig
US Release Date: 2006-06-13
UK Release Date: 2006-07-03
Amazon
iTunes

Electronic music dates quickly, and IDM -- newer and often more reliant on the cutting edge -- dates even more quickly. In just the last 10 years, we've watched the rise (and debatably the fall) of DSP, a reaction trend towards more organic edits, and the incorporation of glitch techniques back into pop music. The first time I heard the guitar parts skipping and jumping like scratched vinyl in a Madonna song I swear it took me a hour to find where my jaw had rolled and lodged itself under the couch. But I'm digressing. IDM has changed, yes, but what we need to consider today is where it was before all of that.

In the latter half of the 90s, while big beat swept in and out of popular attention, as melodic IDM and drill 'n' bass were staking their claim on a corner of limelight through a seemingly constant stream of groundbreaking releases on (predominantly European) labels like Warp and Skam and even (American label) Astralwerks, a slew of more fractured, minimal releases were creeping out on labels like Mille Plateaux, Thrill Jockey, and the nascent Sonig. Sonig was the creation of Jan St. Werner, consummate sound scientist, half of Mouse on Mars (with Andi Toma), half of Microstoria (with Oval's Markus Popp), all of Lithops. Lithops occupied a space between those other projects, drawing traces of Mouse on Mars' developing flirtation with pop, traces of Microstoria's disorder and noise, and much of both of their microscopic attention to detail. With Queries, collecting hard-to-find vinyl releases and previously unreleased Lithops material from 1995 and 1999, we can revisit that period in full.

The tracks on this collection lurch and skitter on fragmented percussion and synthesized blips, only occasionally coalescing into melody. The drums, though often very rhythmic, feel less like the dance beat-derived creations in most other electronic music and more like a clicking tapped out with a spoon on the pipes beneath the sink: faint, obscure, curious. A murmur of warm electronic noise often washes in and out of the background, submerging and exposing tiny details of the mix. Utterly minimal, Queries is packed with elements that seem reluctant to step into the foreground or assume precedence. For a compilation of old work, it's very consistent, but also very distinct to the time in which it was created, a time when sound manipulation was often more about the excitement of the act itself than about the product. IDM has changed, and this is a postcard from another era.

The best songs here are perhaps the ones that draw most heavily from St. Werner's work with Mouse on Mars; there's a certain timelessness that comes when a piece is allowed to fall into a steady groove. "Tubino See-Through", for instance, features percussion that, for once, adopts a faintly industrial clang and actual high hats, coupled with a variety of rhythmic glitch effects we well as clear, smooth keyboard chords allowed to well up and out into the open between the beats, for an effect reminiscent of classic Mouse on Mars "pop" song "Pinwheel Herman". In "Moggast", a fragile, repeated key sequence is just the adhesive needed to hold together a menagerie of improvised analog noise. "Blasmusik" balances beautiful washes of line noise and electric confusion with a faint melodic theme, granting an emotional weight that can be difficult to find in the less grounded works.

Taken as an album, Queries is an interesting document of a developing sound, but one that is also trapped in that development. A decade later, I sometimes find myself marveling not at the carefully worked soundscapes, but that they can wind for so long without seeming to progress. When these production techniques were created, they were groundbreaking, now they're expected -- and expected to be put to broader use, an unfortunate but inevitable result of their application in subsequent work, both in St. Werner's own projects and those that followed. I recall that the 2003 reissue of Mouse on Mars' 1996 Glam stumbled similarly. Times change and shade our perception of older work. With reissues, nostalgia for the original may be some help, and perhaps will be here, for listeners who heard the original Lithops records providing some of the material. For others, however, new listeners and old listeners more taken with more recent St. Werner work, Queries may seem more like a creaking museum piece. Such listeners may be happy to learn, however, that the latest developments in the Lithops sound can be heard, for contrast, on the upcoming album of new material slated for release by Thrill Jockey this fall.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.