Mike Paradinas, the electronic musician who goes by the name µ-Ziq, must have a precarious relationship with his hard drives because this is the second almost-lost album we’ve come across by him. Aberystwyth Marine was recorded in the late ’90s but didn’t see the light of day until early 2016. Challenge Me Foolish was recorded around the same time and is now seeing release on Paradinas’s Planet Mu in 2018. He should find a cash-strapped teenager to go through his storage space someday because these “lost” µ-Ziq albums are just painstakingly pleasurable as any of Mike Paradinas’s planned releases. It’s even been proclaimed, by the accompanying press material, as a superior companion to his 1999 album Royal Astronomy. Is it in fact better? Almost? A matter of hairsplitting, perhaps? Let’s go with that last notion because, from whatever angle, you are looking at two very sturdy albums from one of IDM’s greatest forerunners.
As time marches on, recorded music is sounding less and less dated. When I was a kid, music that 20 years old sounded ancient to me. Nowadays, music that is 20 years old has no problem standing side-by-side with something more current (as long as a mastering job steps in to match the volumes). Music outside the pop/rock scope seems even more immune to aging, meaning that Challenge Me Foolish would have no problem passing as a 2018 release. Adding icing to the cake is the album’s diversity. Someone prone to look for grey clouds among the silver lining may complain about the album’s lack of focus. But that’s a bit like griping to your waiter about the food on your plate being disorganized. If you just take the time to taste it, you could care less about the lack of focus.
Mike Paradinas released his first µ-Ziq on the Rephlex label, meaning that he was ranked as a very close second behind Richard D. James where idiosyncratic electronica was concerned. A good melody was never at the mercy of a strange noise, and vice versa. A perfect marriage of the strange and beautiful, Paradinas and James built a little empire among their respective catalogs and collaborating on an album that was eventually released on both of their labels. The two have since branched off in their own subtle ways with James preferring a perverse mix of ambient and glitch music. Paradinas, meanwhile, continues to straddle whatever combinations of electronica he can to give us more of what we haven’t heard before.
After smooth, swaying synths of “Inclement” get things rolling for Foolish, groundwork is prepared for decidedly less laid-back material on “Undone”, a track that doesn’t quite live up to its sad and chaotic title. The title track is the first of five to feature Japanese vocalist Kazumi. “Challenge Me Foolish” could be Moby in stealth, but tracks like “Durian” and “Lexicon” throw shadings of psychedelia and jungle into the mix respectively. “Bassbins” stalks you from behind, eager to agitate. Hit the skip button, and the mood shifts to old-school computer game music with “Robin Hood Gate”, completely free of percussion. Selections like “Perhaps” and “Perframe” also enjoy the pulse-free environment, though it would be a stretch to label them as ambient.
Challenge Me Foolish ends with a stunner, though not before the listener is teased with the (nearly) relentlessly playful “Peek Freans”, a sunny slice of major-key dopiness that could be disguised as a synthesizer demo. Kazumi’s vocals are then heavily sampled for the lyrically nonsensical yet heavily compelling “DoDaDu”. It’s somehow both slightly goofy and very lovely.
Again, this album was “almost lost!”