Evil mastermind Aaron Funk released three albums in 2005: a gabber onslaught directed at his less-than-beloved Winnipeg, a gabber onslaught directed at disconcerting sexual deviance and violence, and… in something of an about-face, an articulate breakbeat symphony approaching mortality and sorrow through careful orchestration and hyperkinetic drum-programming, for once fully as beautiful as it is vicious. That odd album out, released between the other two, was Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett, which quickly garnered praise from critics and fans alike, and became the most popular Venetian Snares album to date.
The contrast isn’t entirely without precedent: Funk has always been comfortable leaping between several modes of production, often several times within one year. There are the eerily pretty IDM albums, the tongue-in-cheek sample-driven drum and bass (which drift the closest to “dance” music — if you can dance in 7/8 time, at least), and the hard, noisy, “evil” albums (also, presumably, with tongue lurking fairly close to the side of the mouth), but all are tethered by variants of Funk’s cataclysmic percussion, the namesake and spine of his work. And with all of these approaches in his arsenal, it’s not surprising that Funk has avoided attempting to recreate the emotive high-water mark of Rossz, first with the aforementioned gabber, and now on Cavalcade of Glee and Dadaist Happy Hardcore Pom Poms, released at the start of the summer. This album seems to be part of the more playful Venetian Snares lineage, most comparable, in both title and content, to the manic surreality of 2003’s Chocolate Wheelchair. Fortunately for new fans pulled in by Rossz, the new disc maintains traces of Funk’s recent melodic development, coupling its stuttering percussion and lunging sample placement with the occasional melodic breakdown or complicated build sequence.
For the uninitiated, Venetian Snares has always been, especially prior to the recent refocusing on melody for Rossz, about drums. Drums that jackhammer in and out without respite, or shatter and skitter apart like spilled marbles, or contort and twist back on themselves quickly and unexpectedly. There is no looping here, just meticulously arranged soloing that sounds like a punchier, more dynamic, even more obsessive variant of the drill and bass programming pioneered by the likes of Squarepusher and Aphex Twin in the late ’90s. Furthermore, any given song seems to draw from an uncatalogably wide range of raw percussion sounds, from clanging metal to classic drum machines to processed and splintered amen breaks. This may sound like hyperbole, but it’s not: Aaron Funk is simply the best drum programmer in the business. Of course, whether he puts his skills to the best use is more open to debate, and even the most powerful drum tracks can completely flounder in the absence of appropriate accompanying material.
Fortunately, Cavalcade mostly avoids potential pitfalls through songs where the rhythmic chaos is fleshed out well with full synth arrangements and an arsenal of interesting sampled accompaniment. “Swindon”, for instance, opens with racing drill drums (complete with clicks, synth toms, handclaps, rattling hats, and a broad selection of standard kick and snare drums), shouts, effect-warped speaking children, and well-integrated clips of harp and bells, before easing into languid synth lines and occasional stabs of distorted bass. Two minutes in, an ambient break advances the main synth theme, just before launching back into the meat of the piece: a hard-hitting tech-step-ish drum and bass number with lightning shifts in drum processing and continued application of lush, evolving melodies. And this, though impressive, isn’t an atypical Venetian Snares song. “Pwntendo” comes right back with an 8-bit tour-de-force showcasing similar balance of rhythmic and melodic. “Vache” focuses on heavier drum work and explanation of cattle manufacturing. “Donuts” is a catchier number fueled by squelching 303s and (apparently) all the donut-related samples available. “XIII’s Dub” is a simpler, slower exercise in crystaline melody and percussive sound manipulation. “Tache” employs an accumulation of oddly timed triads and portentous sermonizing in French.
Taken individually, any given track is formidable; taken together, a few inevitably get lost in the shuffle of similarly precise and frenetic pieces (an unfortunately common Venetian Snares symptom). Even so, there’s much more variety on display here than on most other Snares discs, and the consistent balance between rhythm and melody makes this one of the strongest to date. At the same time, the surprising level of depth and emotion showcased on Rossz makes it harder to come back to an album that is simply technically proficient and entertaining, even a relative standout like Cavalcade. Of course, with Funk’s prodigious level of productivity, we may not have to wait long either way: by the time this goes to press, his next album, Hospitality, will already be in stores.