Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Parallax Error Beheads You - Max Tundra (LIVE NOV. 8th at THE DRAKE)

Parallax Error Beheads You

Max Tundra
Domino Records.

SCQ Rating: 74%

Ever since I first heard of Max Tundra, I’ve heard the breathless praise that followed wherever his footsteps took him. Like The Avalanches, Max Tundra (AKA Ben Jacobs) is responsible for revolutionizing the act of genre-hopping with Mastered By Guy At the Exchange, a recording that not only bridged electronica with a mélange of left-field instruments and smart-ass grinning, but – no differently than Since I Left You – also stood in the uncertain spotlight of possibly being the artist’s last statement as years passed on. There were no retirement rumours, no excuses; Jacobs retreated into his mash-up laboratory and, as a testament to its longevity, Mastered By Guy At the Exchange held his fans in tow. If it was that groundbreaking record’s intimidating shadow that kept me at bay, Parallax Error Beheads You – Jacobs’ insanely detailed follow-up – compounded my hesitation, which accounts for this review arriving one year late. Of course, three-hundred and sixty-some days is chump change under the Max Tundra microscope, considering how the making of Parallax Error Beheads You comprised six years of Jacobs’ life.

Given such immeasurable commitment to his art, our first universal question is obvious: does all the effort pay off? And depending on one’s devotion to Mastered By Guy At the Exchange, the answer is similarly straightforward; past Max Tundra fans will no doubt find Parallax Error Beheads You a stunning achievement, while those who shrugged throughout that 2002 release will likely maintain their indifferent stance on the sidelines. Opener ‘Gum Chimes’ pinpoints justification for both parties; its super-cheesy retro synths pace back and forth like one of McCartney’s dated Wings songs before shifting into more accessible territory with pleasant keys and Jacobs’ smooth vocals. This technique of breaking a song’s momentum in favour of new directions is a Max Tundra calling card, whereby Jacobs constructs roadblocks and alleyways to appease both challenge-hungry and casual listeners. Tracks like ‘Nord Lead Three’ and ‘Until We Die’ encompass their share of “roadblocks”; the former a ritalin-deprived attack of angular riffs and distorted spoken-word, the latter an eleven-minute opus that combines the pleasant tones of elevator muzak with the thrilling score of Mariokart64. Yet these are, how do I say, intermediate Max Tundra compositions, full of idiosyncrasies and in sharp contrast to Parallax Error Beheads You’s poppier, if no less playful, material. ‘Which Song’ is a glorious hybrid of Motown and retro dance music, owing as much to Songs In the Key of Life -era Stevie Wonder as it owes to Daft Punk, while ‘Will Get Fooled Again’ matches Jacobs’ light-hearted yet lovelorn lyrics to IDM-infected melodies. At times, you’ll ponder whether the addictive spin-ability of these songs is rooted in how respectable they are compositionally, as if repeated listens will dissect the devastating fusion of song-ideas spiraling through ‘Orphaned’ like a whirlwind radio-dial. Trying to understand or resist these slick “alleyways” is futile, however, and their euphoria helps to lessen the burden of Jacob's tougher tracks.

A newly minted fan, I can attest that Max Tundra offers multiple reasons to re-experience his signature sound, as few records of such painstaking craft exude this much fun. Another reason Parallax Error Beheads You is worth hearing is because Ben Jacobs will be touring Max Tundra through Toronto this week, landing at The Drake Hotel on November 8th. With Ghostly International’s Deastro opening, this show will be your best chance to see the mad scientist in his element before he disappears again. And we all know how long that could be…

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