10 November 2007

Ascoltare – B E A M, Part 1


I was sent this record a few weeks ago to comment on, and am pleased to report that its high quality means I do not need to lie in order to write a positive review. Not that I’d lie anyway, but this is good stuff nonetheless. Ascoltare is a one man operation that seems to have followed Kieran Hebden’s lead in as much as he has journeyed from the vague region of ‘post rock’ to the equally nebulous biodome that is ‘electronica’ (though that is pretty certainly coincidence rather than causation) with some aplomb.

The first side of the record is devoted to two relatively lengthy tracks, the better of which is the ominously building pulse of ‘Exo on Ferric’. Fractal lines of sound are etched over the continuously pulsing beat. The way layers join and fall out of the mix is reminiscent of video game Rez: a game whose aesthetic texture builds with success and is stripped of its flesh and glory when a hit is taken. Ascoltare takes no hits throughout the level while dropping his own occasional smart bomb; if he had an avatar it’d be dancing a soft shoe shuffle among the blossoming and fading vectors and textures.

I thought I had read a comparison to ‘post rock’, which I was about to refute quite strongly, but that was in reference to the previous Gwei-Lo project. For this is more reminiscent of the ‘minimal house’ strains of a Minilogue, specifically the excellent ‘Girl from Botany Bay’. Slowly, gradually, layers are methodically added to the mix until there is a (slightly mannered) party breaking out of the turntable.

This is my primary issue with the record: as good as it is, it can sometimes feel rather dry. The second song, ‘Semjase in Excelsis’ for example, has something of an absence of bassline in its mix, which can make it seem a touch more mechanical than the rest of its arrangement suggests. This is especially noticeable at the points during which dubby synth stabs rear their satisfyingly offbeat collective head in the composition. Conversely the nearly Aphexian minimalism of ‘Asket’s Ship’, which opens the second side, sounds a lot more musically robust, as the aural frequency spectrum feels a lot better represented. The interplay of the textural loops also seem to work to greater effect on this song.

The big surprise on a stylistic level is the thematic departure represented by the disc’s excellent closer, ‘Sky Fishing’. It’s a pleasant coincidence that Ascoltare was unaware of Asa-Chang and Junray’s Minna no Junray album while making this, because that album was the first thing that came to mind when initially listening to this track, due to the level of joyful exuberance generally and the quality brass loop specifically. That loop meets disembodied warped and chopped vocal snippets in a piece whose innocent enthusiasm marks a stark contrast with the detached minimalism that preceded; this can make those tracks seem relatively lacking in personality, which would be unfair to their meticulous construction and subtle groove. Back to the matter at hand, the moment the vocal samples and counter-rhythms collided in a hyper-colour party crash reminded me of the excellent Jackson And His Computer Band, a recommendation if ever there was one.

I couldn’t help but feel the record might have benefited from a little more variety in the structure of the songs, though the gradual-build motif in itself is no bad thing and is currently very much in vogue in both house and dubstep. And in hindsight, it’s refreshing after the ever-intensifying drill ‘n’ bass boot-scrape craziness of the late nineties c.f. Warp Records, Digital hardcore et al. Still, the tantalisingly full-blooded presence of ‘Sky Fishing’ makes me wonder, not what could have been as this is a fine EP, but rather what gems might follow from Ascoltare. So it is for that reason, as well as B E A M’s own position as a lean, deft counterpoint to the sometimes sludgy mire of generic dubstep, that I can very much recommend the record.

B E A M Part 1 is distributed through Cargo, and the entirely online Part 2 can be downloaded here! Be sure to check it out.

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