Sunday, April 29, 2012

Music: Coupler "America in the Coming Age of Electronics" LP

The title of this record sounds like an Epcot exhibit and that's pretty appropriate given the sound. All USA Futurism circa 1970 World's Fair: sloped white plastic walls, egg-shaped chairs, discreet control panels and it's, for the most part, strikingly gorgeous, patient music from Ryan Norris, who also plays a prominent role in Hands Off Cuba.

"The Valley of the Elders" opens Side 1 with a subtle drone before a warbling Melotron voice enters, lulling and plaintive and absolutely arresting. It's all, to some extent, "Ambient" music, but as the lead-off's title suggests, "Ambient" in the vein of Jon Hassell, Side 2 of "Low" or some of Joe Zawinul's more tasteful electronic outings, i.e. no New Age bullshit. Needless to say, Brian Eno is a major reference point, really a jumping-off point, because none of this is lazy emulation or overly derivative of his many experiments and collaborations from the 1970s.

Second track, "Ton" is especially affecting in its slow, one-finger/12-tone synth rumination but is curious for its lack of detail regarding instrumentation in the liner notes. While Moog synth, Acetone organ and Space Echo all get name checked on other tracks, some of the notes merely refer to "programming" or anonymous "synth bass", etc. Whether this is a symptom of Norris's dismissive/ashamed(?) attitude toward non-vintage/digital(?) instruments or a means-to-mystery is arguable. But this is the Age of Electronics Already Come, and the detuned oscillators on "Ton" and filtered buzz on "Swarm", be they from a VST plugin or 50-year-old wooden box, are among the most complex and invigorating here.

The side closes with the buzzing arpegiation of the afore mentioned "Swarm", the album's first beat-oriented track and in between is every manner of electronic "treatment" (the liners' term) of haunting vocal samples courtesy Forrest Bride's Amy Marcantel, sparkling acoustic guitar, horn and synthesizer.
Side 2 which opens once again with Melotron Voice and, Jesus Christ, that sound is just so good. Fucking Melotron, man. The world would be more beautiful if every Goodwill and Southern Thrift had one or two of these instead of cheap church organs, but I suppose their scarcity adds to the allure. Norris and compatriots blend the aching tape-keyboard with lush drones and sinewy organ sounds perfectly. Nothing sounds out of place.

The rest of the record feels a little less deliberate, a little more "Ambient for Ambient's sake" perhaps, with trem-panned Rhodes piano, Moog Opus and heavilly tremoloed guitar all getting features, though album-closer "Sehnsucht" develops with a rather nice chord progression and old-worldy organ that reminisces slightly of Norris's contributions to noir folkers, Lambchop.

Ultimately a really beautful vinyl debut from one of Nashville's best side-experimentalists. Made in Canada label. Classy art work. Highly Recomended!

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