Friday, June 15, 2007

A Discussion of Two Kompakt Records (aka The Inagural Post)

There have been two releases this year on Kompakt that have caught the eyes of many critics. Gui Boratto is a Brazilian producer who has been working for ten years with various artists from Brazil (including Gal Costa) and around the world (Garth Brooks?) before he decided to concentrate on his own works in 2005, resulting in the album released this year, Chromophobia. The Field is the moniker of Axel Willner, who hails from Stockholm, Sweden and was signed to Kompakt after sending in a demo to the label. His first album, From Here We Go Sublime is the most critically acclaimed album of 2007 according to Metacritic. While they come from different backgrounds and are sonically quite disparate, they deserve to be compared purely because they are the most prominent releases of this year on one of the most prominent techno labels in the world.

From Here We Go Sublime works within many more genre constraints than Chromophobia. For most of Sublime the kick is consistently four on the floor and there is most often a "pah" to compliment it, while the beats are much more varied throughout the latter. This makes Chromophobia much easier to digest on first listen, rather than Sublime, which is so consistent with its throb that by the end it would be no surprise if the listener's heartbeat was altered for a week. It is in many ways like Seefeel’s Quique in it’s pairing of ambient shoegaze and techno textures. There is excitement in Chromophobia, and that excitement is palpable in the structure of the songs and in the sequencing. As the album builds and eventually climaxes we are bombarded with phrases like "what a beautiful life." Boratto is constantly teasing the listener, removing elements of the track and adding them back in, letting them build and take their own shape rather than trying to meticulously control them. By the time we get to the album's best track and aforementioned climax "Beautiful Life," we are ready to forget about anything that may be plaguing our minds and smile and nod our head as we are enveloped by synthesizers.

From Here We Go Sublime, on the other hand, is a more difficult listening experience and is easy to get lost in. The repetition can become numbing, especially as only one track ends before the five-minute mark. There is very little of the excitement found in Chromophobia throughout Sublime. In the place of that joy, there is instead relentless perseveration and blankets of haze, the music hardly ever letting go. It is not only mysterious, but also impenetrable and distant in a way that only records made on a machine can be. There is absolutely nothing human about the sound of From Here We Go Sublime. Even the sampled voices like the ones on the opener "Over The Ice" are inhuman and cold, manipulated so their original intent is lost.

All of these points, however, are not negative criticisms but exactly what this type of music should do to the listener, whether on the dance-floor or not. The creation of electronic dance music may be one of the biggest admissions of human loneliness and alienation of the past half century. Through technology we have been able to express the loneliness and inhuman feelings that were unable to be expressed previously because music actually had to be created by the humans themselves. When dancing in a club, which was the original intent of house and techno, one is as solitary as one can be when surrounded by people. Everyone is looking for a partner, a fuck, a temporary solution to a larger problem that plagues everyone from the moment they learn about sex. You are never as alone as when you are looking for a companion.

The repetition that is such an integral part of The Field's music, and much electronic music in general, is a form of comfort and a shield from the unpredictability of life outside that contained environment. No matter how hectic and unpredictable life can be outside of the dance-floor, there is always the assurance that the next bar will go to the same chord it did before, that the kick will still pound away, and there is finally a constant in life. This repetition invites us to let our guard down and throw ourselves into the music, forgetting all except the beat and following it through the night.

Of course if From Here We Go Sublime was simply a genre exercise, even a fairly good one, it wouldn't be half as brilliant as it is. The fact that Willner creates something unique out of such a strict formula is what makes it so remarkable. It is great simply because it is so rigidly formulaic, but the formula is used in ways that create a sense of an artist. A Field track is definitely a Field track, from the hazy shoegaze synths to the chopped up vocals. This approach is what makes it hard to sit through the first time the listener is presented with it, but with repeated listens the music opens up and we are able to dive in and let the throb overpower us.

From Here We Go Sublime presents the listener with many more complexities and contradictions than Boratto’s album, which is exactly what good electronic music should do. Chromophobia is an amazing album, but is not as complete a statement as Sublime is. Many times it feels as if it is simply a collection of songs rather than a cohesive album, which is what Willner achieves to such an amazing degree. Chromophobia will appeal to rock and pop listeners as well as the rabid Kompakt fans, while Sublime will most likely appeal more to the genre’s core audience. It is highly unlikely that any electronic album will touch these two this year

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