Oval: Popp

Popp goes beyond the cerebral and scattered surface that it first projects to become something far more affirming, revelatory, and perhaps even joyful.



Label: Uovooo
US Release Date: 2016-10-14
UK Release Date: 2016-10-14

Some phenomena are undetectable except for the impact they have on their environment. Black holes, for instance, are by definition invisible, but their existence can be inferred by the total absence of light within their bounds. Tornadoes, too, are not directly observable per se; instead, one merely sees the dust, gas, and debris caught in their vortex. Listening to Popp, the latest release by glitch pioneers Oval (now mostly just a vehicle for Markus Popp), one gets the sense that a similar phenomenon is afoot here. This is an album composed of synthetic detritus, scraps of sound that whir and buzz in what at first sounds like chaos. As you spend more time with it, however, you come to perceive patterns among the movements. The overcrowded surface conceals, but also indicates, powerful currents below that operate by their own internal logic, shaping what ultimately amounts to an intricate and satisfying listening experience.

If Popp is a tornado, it is one that barrels through music archives where every pitch-altered vocal sample from the past ten years is filed away, shredding them into bite-size units before carrying them along in its path. The album's monosyllabic and largely abstract song titles -- such as "ai", "fu", "sa", and "ve" -- are indicative of its hyperactive metabolic rate, breaking everything down into digits as numerous and minuscule as pixels on a computer screen. There are vocals here, or at least bits that sound like vocals, but they have been disintegrated and digitized into abstraction. Other song titles, like "id", "re", and most notably, "my", drift closer towards meaningfulness and actual representational language. Mostly, though, the thesis of Popp lies not in any direct transmission of meaning, but in the patterns that emerge among the churning sonic debris.

The album walks a line between playful and serious. It is frenetic and hyperactive yet solitary and contained, like playing a game of ping pong (or maybe just Pong) against oneself. Indeed, the popping, pitter-pattering texture of "my" evokes the strangely satisfying sound of a ball hitting a hard surface. In the way that a night spent alone in the dark on one's laptop might produce a kind of addled, stimulated solitude, an asocial euphoria, Markus Popp searches paradoxically for limitlessness within a set of confines and parameters. It is in the tension created between boundaries and expansiveness that the album achieves its high.

During its first half, Popp sounds like it might end up being one of those conceptually and sonically intriguing albums that nonetheless fails to make an impact due to a lack of pathos and variation. After all, any given thirty-second snippet taken from the first five tracks would serve as a pretty good indicator for the rest. This creates a static, stationary dynamic, like observing a piece in a museum. Things start to change around "lo", however, which introduces heavier, more aggressive drums that sound like something out of DJ Shadow's Endtroducing…... Popp continues to accumulate heaviness as it progresses, culminating in the highlight "mo", which balances twinkling, Exorcist-like bells with propulsive beats and an abstracted but oddly warm vocal sample.

By the time Oval leaves us with "ve", one is left with the remnants of a surprisingly visceral, if private, experience. "ve" is the sound of sunlight entering again through the curtains, bringing to a close a solitary evening spent in the digital light of a computer screen. While withdrawal of this type is often frowned upon in Western society, which gluts itself on personalized technology while also remaining deeply suspicious of it, Oval suggests that such experiences can be regenerative, that they can be sources of energy that help us ultimately to return to the world. In the end, Popp goes beyond the cerebral and scattered surface that it first projects to become something far more affirming, revelatory, and perhaps even joyful.





'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.


Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.


Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.


Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.


Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.


British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.


Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".


In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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