To Rococo Rot & I-Sound: Music Is a Hungry Ghost

To Rococo Rot & I-sound
Music Is a Hungry Ghost
City Slang

I have a hard time with electronic music. In fact, I think most of it sucks. In one ear and out the other. Usually never hits me in the gut. Doesn’t engage me emotionally. It’s the new muzak, in my opinion.

I like rock music. I like grittiness and sloppiness and abrasive sounds. I like hearing people with imperfect voices sing from the bottom of their guts. I have cathartic experiences listening to rock music — call me old-school, but it’s what makes sense to me.

The majority of electronic music (and the majority of the concepts behind it) does not make sense to me. In fact, I feel dehumanized by a lot of it; at least the stuff designed to keep you on your feet at 4am. Soulless, repetitive, toothless, unimaginative twaddle for people whose brains have been rotted out by bad club drugs. This “music” terrifies me — you look at some of its most avid followers and think, “How long have you and your wide-eyed friends been in this state of mass hypnosis?” It’s an aural scourge, one that has quickly spread everywhere — TV commercials, rapidly edited action movie trailers, trendy restaurant reception areas. Please — someone, anyone, stop it!

I’m ranting. I could go off forever about this but I won’t, because there are a lot of truly exceptional artists working with electronics (among other things) who make great music for the mind and heart. I’m thinking Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Stereolab, Third Eye Foundation, Bjork, Trans Am, and To Rococo Rot. When I first heard To Rococo Rot I wrote them off as derivative of Tortoise — their bass lines were a little too similar to those of the Chicago post-rock wonders. But subsequent listens to Rot’s breakthrough 1999 album, The Amateur View, revealed something different — a complex chill-out album. It’s a very soothing work, but one that’s littered with challenging textures, layers, and burbling effects. You can put it on to relax, but it becomes immediately involving after just a few minutes.

The group’s new album, Music is a Hungry Ghost, is a collaborative effort made with New York City DJ and musician I-Sound, who worked with them on a song that appeared on Amateur View (“A Little Asphalt Here and There”). Fans won’t be disappointed — it traverses To Rococo’s Teutonic grounds while simultaneously skirting darker territories, ones that distinctly reek of the more ambiguous sections of the Big Apple. The mixture is surprisingly seamless — it’s impossible to tell where Rot’s contributions end and I-Sound’s (whose work touches on hip-hop, dance hall, and techno) begin. It’s also impossible to fully digest, even after the fifth listen. A dense, almost claustrophobic production, but one that’s not overproduced in the least (a damn impressive feat).

Music is a Hungry Ghost gives me hope for greener electronic pastures. For those who share my general disdain for synthesized music — swallow your pride and turn this on. It stands tall next to Matmos‚ A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure as one of the most engaging and wholly original electronic albums of 2001.