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Synthesizer fanatic Daniel Lopatin just released a strangely engrossing album with Joel Ford (their duo used to go by the name Games) called Channel Pressure (Software). The two of them clearly share the fascination with and adoration for 80s synth music that's so endemic in underground and experimental circles these days. Both Lopatin and Ford were born in 1982, so they didn't have to live through one of popular music's worst decades as adults, like I did—at least that's my best explanation for why they don't have a deep-seated hatred for that stuff. Channel Pressure collides 80s synth pop, R&B, and mainstream radio rock to create a weird hybrid that gets most of its rhythmic juice from 90s hip-hop, so as slick as it sounds, there's something consistently queasy and off-kilter about it. The duo's apparent sincerity has made it hard for me to dismiss the music, and I actually find some of the songs really catchy.
Lopatin performs as Oneohtrix Point Never on Saturday night. He earned lots of praise and new fans with last year's Returnal (Editions Mego), but he's been making vaguely similar creepy electronic music for half a decade—the 2009 double CD Rifts (No Fun) collects most of his early work going back to 2007. Returnal opens with a surprisingly abrasive blast of noise called "Nil Admirari," but quickly settles into lush, meditative melodies and spectral washes of old-school synthesizers—the usual Oneohtrix aesthetic blurs the lines between new age, ambient, and late Tangerine Dream hot-tub music.Air Museum (Thrill Jockey), a recent album by Brooklyn duo Mountains (aka Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp, both of whom studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago). On previous efforts they've used computers to meticulously sculpt an array of sound sources, including acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards (harmonium, electric piano, melodica, organ, synthesizer), and field recordings. Mountains are still using those same sources, but now they're processing them with effects pedals and modular synths before they even make it to the computer—everything, regardless of provenance, ends up electronic sounding. The duo's earlier work sounded through-composed, with new details constantly unfolding, but Air Museum is more about pulsations and slow transformations—not so far removed from Tangerine Dream, in pre-hot tub mode, and other electronic Krautrock pioneers. (Some fingerstyle acoustic guitar does turn up in the final minute of the album, but that's hardly enough to transform the overall effect.) According the press information that accompanied by copy of the album, the duo are also using a new performance mode for their set tonight: they've created a "patch that will enable their electronics to sync up at various times, so while the musicians react to one another musically, given the right parameters, the machines can react to another as well."
San Francisco guitarist Bill Orcutt (a founding member of the Miami noise-rock group Harry Pussy) couldn't be less technologically oriented. Last year, when he made his local solo debut as part of the Wire's Adventures in Modern Music Festival, I had this to say about him:
[He plays an] acoustic guitar fitted with pickups similar to those used by Chicago blues great Elmore James. His approach could be loosely characterized as fingerstyle, but his ferocious attack and in-the-red tone are anything but rustic or folksy—though he draws on country-blues language, he does it with a violence reminiscent of his playing in Harry Pussy, wrenching dense bent-note scale patterns and resonant explosions from his instrument. He covers Lightnin' Hopkins's "Sad News From Korea," transforming it into a barrage of abrasive bursts, and that cluster-bomb treatment makes it of a piece with his originals, which thread similar detonations along single-note strands or slashing chords to create a sort of probing, throbbing "blues." Here and there Orcutt vocalizes, and though sometimes he seems to be forming words, his singing generally follows the shape of his guitar lines, giving them an extra emotional heft instead of adding anything like a foreground melody—it's as though his turbulent playing is simply carrying his voice with it.
For his performance at the MCA last September, Orcutt was barefoot and seated uncomfortably in a straight-back chair— and when he played, he looked like he was going through an exorcism. Earlier this year his out-of-print solo debut, A New Way to Pay Old Debts, was reissued by Editions Mego, who tacked on tracks from a seven-inch single and four previously unissued performances. Orcutt plays Saturday evening.Sam Prekop will create live soundtracks to experimental animations by Robert Breer. The performance will be the first time Prekop has taken to the stage with the experimental electronic music he debuted on last year's superb Old Punch Card (Thrill Jockey), though he notes that Sunday afternoon's event will be largely improvised—the album used meticulous cut-and-paste editing. Also on the Sonic Celluloid program are Lichens (aka former Chicagoan Robert Lowe) and David Daniell.
Mountains photo: Joshua Zucker-Pluda
Sam Prekop photo: Sam Prekop