Mound Magnet pt. 2 - Elevations Above Sea Level

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Lithops - Mound Magnet, Pt. 2: Elevations Above Sea Level

May 27, 2008

US CD Killer Pimp PIMPK006

  1. Roctrum
  2. Rosa In A Light Speed Vessel - [MP3]
  3. Caribbean Circuitry
  4. Bleasure Pastique
  5. Every Detail's Matter
  6. Noo Non M Oon
  7. A Generation Without Context
  8. Mound Magnet Pt.1 Remixed By The Allophons
  9. Fahrtenheit
  10. Concretemess And Absaction
  11. Serendippo 4
  12. Baliation
  13. Serendippo 5

Music by Jan St. Werner

CD contains 1 bonus track not on LP or MP3 download
MP3 download available from Fina Music
LP available from Sonig

"Elevations above Sea Level" is the second Mound Magnet part from Lithops aka Jan St Werner, 1/2 of the prolific duo Mouse on Mars, 1/3 of last year's surprise collaboration "Von Südenfed" with the Fall's Mark E Smith and 1/2 of the dsp group Microstoria. Though he is a prolific producer he seems to have a fascination with rollover dates (he cancelled mostly every Lithops gig in the last 5 years) does that spill into a fascination with cycles of nature? No! Actually he's more interested in the cycling by man-made machines, as expressed in the Mound Magent sequel. "Elevations above Sea Level" gives us aural diagrams of a large, hypermodern cities with futuristic vehicles moving around. The electrical ticking of fluorescent advertising panels, a thwappy airiness of the ventilation system, the rattles of trains and chopped up hums of distant roads, the mechanical groans that maintenance machinery starts up with, rain drumming on the stretched glass roofs of urban malls, the howling groans of motorcycles on city highways. It's not an ambient record by any means, nor is it purely musique concrete. It's rather an acid fulled hallucination of how to detect an idea of the future in the noises that surround us. Though he uses some of the sound editing methods like his contemporaries (and his own other groups), this doesn't mass into huge pools to make a statement; the basslines, hums, jolts and whooshes divide and multiply into sections like buildings and streets are divided, from sub-basements to rooftops, alleys and boulevards, by stories. Lithops' narcoleptic programming has a precision which holds the listener completely captive -- difficult, haunting and highly enjoyable. The limited vinyl version is available on Sonig.

Named after a plant species that practices camouflage by appearing like smooth stones, this solo project of Jan St. Werner (Mouse on Mars, Von Sudenfed, Microstoria) has an equally duplicitous, slippery nature. But it's not nearly as bland. Propelled by shifting rhythmic patterns, the songs run into clusters of static and squishy beats that aren't as much steady electronic melodies as snatches of overheard electronic conversation. "Rosa in a Light Speed Vessel" amps up with funky melodies and a rubbery bass line before a sustained chord ominously pans back and forth like a pilot slowly strafing a target. "Serendippo" runs on carnivalesque beats that warp into a Luke Vibert-like acid party. It's polyglot production that feels fun, not forced. -- Patrick Sisson [3.5 out of 5 stars], Remix

Further collecting the sound experiments Jan St. Werner likes to work with on his own as Lithops, Mound Magnet, Pt. 2 feels more like a dog's breakfast of randomness than anything else, but then again that's part of the charm. There are no surprises per se in the wide-ranging mix-and-match styles on offer, from mid-20th century vocal harmonies to exotica and '80s dancefloor, but anyone interested in St. Werner's general sonic approach to things will enjoy what's here, even if much of it passes by without leaving a lasting impact. A good example of that tendency can be heard in "Roctrum," which begins with distortion glitch that, on the one hand, sounds familiar and even set in its ways, but is also playful and weird, like a kind of '90s that didn't end. "Bleasure Pastique," in comparison, has more memorable heft, an utter '80s homage with stabs of sound and rolling electro-punch beats that suggest Ronald Reagan's second term in office over his first. The song title that summarizes the random play at work is "A Generation Without Context," while the tune itself goes the beat-shuffled randomization route, low moans arcing in and around the percussion to striking effect. If on the downside other songs like "Serendippo 4" and "Baliation" are enjoyable but perhaps too reminiscent of his past work overall to stand out, all it takes for St. Werner to really leave a mark is a song like "Rosa in a Light Speed Vessel." Brawling and weird, it's almost a tribute to Coil in their own high dancefloor phase, all sorts of sonic twists and whines set against clipped guitar stabs and beats. - Ned Raggett, All Music Guide

The latest release from Jan St. Werner's solo project is as playful as his work in Mouse on Mars, but it's a more mischievous kind of play that borders on unfriendly. Jan St. Werner is best known as one half of German IDM duo Mouse on Mars, a project often noted for its sense of playfulness and an accessibility that has won them many fans from outside of the often insular experimental electronic scene. With his solo project, Lithops, St. Werner incorporates Mouse on Mars' famous eclecticism, with tracks ranging from glitch and noise to funky electro and minimal house, but while there's still a sense of play, it's less inclusive, more clique-ish (and not just because of all the clicks). The newest Lithops release opens with "Roctrum," a twittering composition of jarring noises and glitches that's never quite abrasive, but still manages to be annoying. It's not a criminal assault, but more like the taunts of a schoolyard bully. Not every track is so deliberately difficult, but even the more conventional electro and techno offerings come off more as subversions of the form than tributes to it. "Bleasure Pastique" starts with simple electro funk, but its muffled brassy rhythm and distorted electronics, while never quite aggressive, aren't particularly pleasurable either, and "Noo Non M Oon" is little more than a brief snippet of rhythmic loops underscored by a faintly grating metallic whine. This sort of approach can make for an aggravating listen; St. Werner skirts around deliberate confrontation, teasing and taunting until one longs for a straightforward blast of feedback instead of mere hints of harshness. Still, there's plenty to enjoy on Mound Magnet Part 2, and there's an irrepressible sense of joy that shines through on tracks like "Serendippo 5," which sets a tentative electronic melody off with exuberant bits of studio effects and crunchiness in a near-perfect blend of musicality and glitch. "Fahrtenheit" is similarly hard not to like, starting off with robot noises and ambience but building into a remarkably organic electro track adorned with a finely chopped stew of sampled sound effects and vintage jazz snippets. Lithops is by no means as accessible as St. Werner's better known material, but there's still plenty here to appeal to IDM aficionados, if perhaps not the general public. - Matthew Johnson, Regen

Jan St. Werner is a well-heeled master of the unconventional groove. As one half of Mouse on Mars (and one third of Von Südenfed), he's been responsible for some of the more gloriously deranged takes on dance music to come down the pike in recent years. Of course, his prodigious musical activities also lean toward the avant-garde and experimental -- he was recently the artistic director at the Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music (Steim) in the Netherlands. But even at its most abstract, his music always has at least one foot on the dance floor. The traces of dub, funk, and techno may be obscured, but their signature propulsive rhythms are rarely absent. The tracks on St. Werner's fourth album as Lithops are no exception: they're eccentric, loose-limbed constructions, heavy on contorted rhythms, off-kilter beats, and writhing swirls of noise. Ostensibly a sequel to 2006's Mound Magnet (which remains a horrible title), Pt. 2 is as jam-packed with ideas as its uneven predecessor, but it's a friendlier and considerably funkier creature. "A Generation Without Context," with its kettledrum bass line and anxious, stumbling beats, may not impel you to jump up and shake what God gave you -- then again, maybe you need to re-examine what God gave you. - Susanna Bolle, The Boston Phoenix

Lithops is actually Jan St. Werner who is one half of the ever glitchy Mouse on Mars and one third of the Mark E. Smith led Vod Sudenfed. On his own as Lithops, Werner, doesn't stray to far from the Mouse on Mars blueprint of glitchy, plonky techno except to make things a bit harder, faster, and erm stronger. Ok, Daft Punk/Kanye references aside, Elevations Above Sea Level is a brash and harsh electronic experiment which sees Lithops devleoping songs by what would seem like bashing to Roland 808's together and then crushing a few Korgs for good measure. It's Aphex Twin in a good mood if he were run through the German techno processing plant. The songs on Elevations Above Sea Level are the sort of things that will test the limits of your speakers and your neighbors patience and that's why this is a great release. This is an album of powerful machines attacking lines of beats and atonal keyboard stabs to attempt to make something organic out of them. The results aren't always what you would call catchy, but there are glimpses of melody scattered in between the computerized knife fights. "Rosa In A Light Speed Vessel," for example, is actually quite a catchy little minimal techno stormer and almost seems like a Von Sudenfed outtake. It's bouncy bass line keeps the song moving while guitars and keyboards sound like they're being pulled apart by T-1000's. It's violently happily and melodically pleasing stuff that's quite danceable. Most of the other tunes on Elevations Above Sea Level however, sound like the internet superhighway clogged with 1,000,000,000 streaming accidents and a lot of frustration. These are the sorts of things that would probably give most people migraines and cause them to go insane. It's not pleasant stuff, but harsh, cold, and brutal machinations of the apocalypse despite such pleasing titles as, "Caribbean Circuitry." If you ever wanted to know what computers said to each other, Elevations Above Sea Level is what their conversations sound like. Lithops has stumbled upon something here and if can only translate what it all means, he stands to rake in a fortune. Intriguing, loud, illogical, and slightly annoying Lithops' Elevations Above Sea Level is the sound of a dark future coming to light. - Paul Popp, First Coast News

Jan St. Werner has been in the public eye in the last year or so for Von Suedenfed, the collaboration he and his Mouse on Mars partner Andi Toma have with the Fall's Mark E. Smith. But St. Werner keeps busy and often has several projects going on simultaneously. Musically, the man never stays still; even when he's issuing a sequel, it still feels like the first time. Case in point is his new solo album under his Lithops guise. Though it shares the title Mound Magnet with its predecessor, (this is Part 2, subtitled Elevations Above Sea Level), the feel on the tracks I've heard is looser, sillier, comparatively melodic, and more focused on the driving 4/4. The epic "Rosa in a Light Speed Vessel" has a propulsive beat at its core and everything but the kitchen sink is swirling around it in a cyclone of sound-- stomping guitar chords, sea-sick synth moans, what might be a gradually pitch-shifted sample of a bi-plane's engine. It's a track that makes you feel like you're one step behind it for its entire duration, not quite able to figure out what's going on one moment as it has already moved on to the next. - Mark Richardson, Pitchfork

Besides this Lithops solo project, Jan St. Werner spends time in Mouse on Mars, Microstoria, and Von Südenfed in addition to few other even more obscure monikers. While the aforementioned projects are "bands," perhaps in an unconventional sense, Lithops is his chance to act completely on his own and while traces of those other projects are evident, this is a wonderfully unmanageable beast all on its own. While Microstoria and Mouse on Mars stayed closer to "conventional" electronic music, the more recent Von Südenfed project has shown a greater tendency for experimentation, but keeping within a still-danceable framework, even despite Mark E. Smith's trademark vocals on that project. With Lithops, however, St. Warner has gone balls out in experimentation: while he still isn't afraid to build a track around a crunchy electro beat, it is sonically much more all over the place. "Roctrum" and "Concretemess and Absaction" both have a steady recognizable beat behind them, but the other pieces of the tracks are all over the place, like a malfunctioning sampler spitting out its 16 bit death rattles throughout. St. Warner does make some other bows to conventionality, mostly old school electro in the form of "Noo Non M Oon" and "Bleasure Pastique," the latter meshes the analog beats with subtle melodies and lo-fi Game Boy synth tones in a way that one could probably breakdance to it if they were so inclined (but they'd probably look like an ass doing so). The lo-fi electronic elements come up on the brief, bitcrushed passage of "Every Detail's Matter" and the ancient Atari engine revs of "Baliation" that mix quite well with the violent noise blasts and IDM synth elements. Perhaps the most interesting are the tracks that come flying completely out of left field in terms of color and tone. The Allophons remix of "Mound Magnet Pt. 1" is stripped down to be 1940s era vocal samples layered with guitar loops that make for a much more controlled and mellow work than most of the preceding tracks. Both of the "Serendippo" tracks (4 and 5) diverge the most, with the former resembling a Middle Eastern melodic structure slapped on top of a waltz rhythm that somehow works, and the latter is a completely different work of disembodied voices swirling from another dimension over digital anvil percussion clanks and found sound collage. In a genre that has been so heavily mined for experimentation due to the ability to utilize and exploit any and all technological innovations, Lithops' has created something that, while not groundbreakingly new, takes a new and wildly flailing approach to the genre and style that is all over the map in terms of style and structure, but obviously being directed by the more than able hands of a true artist. Don't expect to dance to it down at the club, but listen intently and be rewarded. - Creaig Dunton, Brainwashed