Friday, October 16, 2009

144 Pulsations Of Light - Ethernet

144 Pulsations Of Light

Kranky Records.

SCQ Rating: 74%

A fun sociological experiment: next time you’re mingling with strangers – be it at a party, wedding, funeral, elevator ride – and music is the topic at hand, mention that you like electronica. Yeah, even if you really don’t. Odds are, the crowd will nod in passing interest and conversation will undergo a hiccup of uncertain silence before the subject changes. If you’ve had that happen to you, understand you were hearing the silence which occurs when a genre pushes against defiant ears. Largely due to electronic music’s failure to breach mainstream America in the late 90s, most people I meet only recall uncomfortable fads by aging figureheads (Fatboy Slim, Prodigy) when the genre’s best facets still lurk beneath, anxiously collected by those in-the-know. And having been one of those innocently ignorant people - one who believed the Chemical Brothers were the crowning gem of their genre – I’m fascinated to now take a similar joy from Ethernet.

Needless to say, Tim Gray doesn’t sound a note like your average pre-millennial Astralwerks act; in fact, he’s setting out to accomplish quite the opposite. Here, on his Kranky debut, Gray, aka Ethernet, turns electronica inward, burying its beats and stretching its melodies into ebbing, collapsing sound environments. Hardly groundbreaking, 144 Pulsations Of Light is an ambient techno record, through and through, but what renders it so addictive is how Gray gravitates toward natural tones and organic knick-knacks which feel innately human. Beneath the optimistic drone of ‘Summer Insects’ lies a buzzing commotion that would easily be labeled “otherworldly” if it didn’t all sound so familiar. Like listening to a distant lawnmower in mono or recording black-shelled vibrations in the dirt, Ethernet’s sound is as fascinating as it is instinctive. Amid Gray’s faintly morphing soundscapes, certain rhythms spring forth; the devious percussion of ‘Majestic’ taps like blood through your temple while the woozy ascending keys of ‘5 + 7 = 12’ create a dizzying zone-out. The richest evocation of earthly rhythms belongs to ‘Seaside’, which undulates echoed heaves as reliably as sepia-tinged waves over unsettled effects that ward off new-age comparisons. That such introverted techniques can hypnotize listeners just as convincingly as the blunt instruments used to hammer stereotypical dance-anthems is a well-earned badge for Ethernet, since a release like this rests on the polar opposite end of electronica’s mainstream.

There’s a sterile abyss to 144 Pulsations Of Light that is vaguely reminiscent of The Sight Below’s 2008 full-length Glider; both records are so committed to immersive swooning and 4/4 beats, they virtually negate artistic ego. And while Glider’s beats were up-front and bass-heavy, Ethernet’s (although harder to find) are likely more complex, less stationary. A track like ‘Kansai’ almost foregoes the ‘ambient’ half with an agitated BPM and restless bubbling effects, sounding closer to Quiet Village’s ‘Singing Sand’ than most long-form atmospheres. That many of these familiar sounds can be traced to field recordings from trips Gray made to central Japan and California is no surprise, given how involved these tracks feel. In short, each of Gray’s tunes has too much on its plate to simply fade into the subconscious; this may be aural hypnosis but it’s also active listening.

Casual electronic fans may look elsewhere but a work like 144 Pulsations Of Light should no doubt make waves among dedicated ambient techno fans. Here’s a record too restrained for ADD downloaders and too revolutionary for your party friends who think electronica is best kept in urban raves. Let them think you spend your late-night hours lying about your apartment with rave goggles on, deafening neighbours with pummeling bass - who cares! The truth is, with Ethernet, you’re closer to being in the womb than anywhere else.

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