Electronic artist Joe Williams' latest project is a warm, futuristic explosion of synths and "found" sounds that results in a unique, colorful listening experience.
I’ve rarely seen an album cover that so perfectly encapsulates the music contained inside. The self-titled debut album by Motion Graphics looks like it sounds. The crisp, clear digital illustration of what appears to be a semi-transparent robot, gears and lenses in full view, staring blankly at his hand against a backdrop of bright, saturated colors seems to say it all. This is a shimmering, bold, deeply futuristic album full of both alien sounds and a human sense of wonder.
Motion Graphics is actually a solo project by electronic artist Joe Williams, who’s made a name for himself (sometimes under the moniker White Williams) as a producer, musician and collaborator, working with Maxmillion Dunbar as part of the Lifted ensemble, as well as a creative force behind a number of soundtracks and remixes.
For this inaugural Motion Graphics project, Williams has created a bright, highly synthetic collection of tracks that seem to reach into the past for its influences (such as Kraftwerk and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Yellow Magic Orchestra), while remaining stubbornly current with technology. Williams may be looking back, but this is an album that could have only been created in the 21st century.
The musicality of the album incorporates everyday sounds into the arrangements. Williams explains: “Interface sounds, notifications from devices, or even the sound of household appliances -- this is the ambient music that we live with, and I see this conversation happening between these sounds and what are considered more 'musical' sounds.” As a result, it can be an acquired taste, and the initial experience is potentially jarring, but once you’ve entered Williams’ world, it’s a cool, gleaming, futuristic one. Keyboards wash over the songs with stuttering beats and rubbery bass lines that incorporate a lovely, warm low end. Williams’ voice is a pleasant instrument that provides something of a “pop” frame of reference. Additionally, more organic (and perhaps less fashionable) instruments make their way into the mix via random samples -- accordions, tympani, and harps are occasionally thrown into the stew, creating welcome anachronisms.
In addition to (relatively) “standard” song structures present in such tracks as the moody, melodic “Minecraft Mosaic", there are a few interlude-length tracks as well, including the 41-second “Airdrop", which sounds a bit like a digital jungle -- blips and yelps that seem to represent futuristic animals mix with rain and wind to create a unique, exotic atmosphere. This crashes dramatically into “Houzzfunction", where a sluggish drum machine mixes with sparse, prickly synth stabs and Williams’ crooning hovering over the whole thing like a leering party guest.
At times, the robotic synthetics bring to mind Björk, an artist who similarly throttles technology to her advantage, creating a unique environment that seems both alien and oddly comforting. “Anyware” kicks off with an insistent marimba-sounding riff and tumbling plastic percussion patches, somehow evoking Peter Gabriel’s early fascination with the Fairlight CMI (a now-antiquated digital sampler). It’s quite something to hear all the different sounds Williams pulls together within the span one of one single track, let alone the entire album. It’s also worth noting that the sound quality is impeccable throughout -- I urge you to experience this album like I did: loudly, on a nice set of headphones. The sound is abrasive yet lush, with a new sonic nugget to be discovered with each listen.
Motion Graphics is only about a half-hour in length, which is actually a good thing -- it would be pushing it to stretch this kind oblique digital manipulation much further. The sounds, the atmosphere, the intense creative playfulness all present in Joe Williams’ latest project are amazing things to behold, but after it’s over, some good old-fashioned bass, drums and guitar make for a nice palate cleanser. In the meantime, strap yourself in and welcome to the future.