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Alog, "Amateur"

cover image Espen Sommer Eide and Dag-Are Haugan return as Alog for yet another fantastic album. They further refine their symbiosis of natural and electronic sounds, always sounding at once earthy and cosmic. Never utilizing weird sounds just for the sake of it, the dozen tracks on this CD are all pieces of music that sound more than beautiful. As expected from Alog, this is a remarkable album that reveals more and more with each listen.

 

Rune Grammofon

What I enjoy most about Amateur (and this applies to pretty much all the other albums put out by Rune Grammofon) is the attention to detail in terms of sounds and sound treatments. Eide and Haugan are not afraid to leave a sound as it is if it has the right character or to tweak it if it needs a little help fitting in with the rest of the sounds. Although I must admit, sometimes it is hard to tell what has been treated in the studio and what is a "real life" sound as there are so many unusual instruments used on and built for the album. Not only that but Alog approach voices from an interesting perspective, the vocal layering of "Write Your Thoughts in Water" sound like a living church organ (and from what I can tell, there no little digital trickery going on here).

Amateur has a dreamy, meandering feel to it. Many of the pieces (especially the aptly named "The Learning Curve") begin with random sounding noises, like the recording has started while the two musicians are trying to figure out what instruments they are playing. However, as if by magic, it all comes together to form a delicate and captivating whole. A good example of this is "The Future of Norwegian Wood," which for the first half of the piece is a cut up of the sound of nails been hammered into wood which makes for interesting listening on its own. When the treated piano comes in over this unusual percussion, the effect is startling and gorgeous.

Most of the album is fairly laid back but Eide and Haugan can bring the music to the boil when they want to, the powerful staccato of "The Beginner" and the middle part of the lengthy "Bedlam Emblem." While Amateur is far from a boring album, it would have been nice to have one or two more livelier pieces on it but that might be entering the realms of greed. As it stands it is a cracker of an album, a logical and fitting continuation of Alog's journey through sound.

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David Grubbs

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Review of the Day

AUTECHRE, "PEEL SESSION 2"
Ae trainspotters around the world are aware that it's been some time since new material has surfaced from Sean Booth and Rob Brown. In mid-1999 they released the difficult, confusing "EP7," which left quite a few people nonplused, others either irritated or delighted. Consequently, rabid Autechre fans (such as myself) are very curious about this new release: a second set of Peel Sessions to complement the first set recorded in 1995.
Describing the way Autechre sounds hasn't been easy since their mind-blowing 1995 release, "Tri Repetae." As far as anyone can figure, the closest Autechre get to occupying a genre is probably electro or detroit techno. But Autechre have a seemingly bottomless bag of tricks when it comes to sonic manipulation: blender-style waves of distortion, sliced-and-diced vocal gibberish, bursts of deafening static, too-fast spidery percussion, low-pitched hums and thumps — and occasional delicate, lucid-dreaming melodies made from synths or strings.
There's one of these right at the start of the 9-minute "Gelk," the first of four tracks on "Peel Sessions 2." Accompanied by a tentative tapping, it grips you by the hair and pulls you all the way down the scale into a pair of earth-shaking bass tones, then repeats itself, and after a few seconds of this everything starts echoing in the most interesting way. It's classic Autechre, straight off of "Chiastic Slide" or "LP5" — but then, three minutes in, the song shifts without a hitch into what sounds like a lunatic plucking at a detuned grand piano, those thick hums stuttering and twisting as the pace slows, does a pirouette, and turns itself into a blunted breakbeat. At the seven minute mark, the beat disappears, gongs ringing as a totally different melody is eked from the high strings.
Irritatingly, this masterpiece is followed up by "Bifil," a juddering, thumping juggernaut of a song improved only by the eventual inclusion of an alien whimpering and babbling behind all the noise. Hit fast forward and save yourself the mental effort of trying to make sense of it. Next comes "Gaekwad," which demonstrates Autechre's unique ability to fashion a groove out of the sound of a bag of marbles dumped out onto a glass tabletop. Synthetic chimes and bells ring in the background while the beats skitter all over the place, speeding up and slowing down, growing louder and softer at random. The track gets a creepy edge as warped samples of dogs barking and laughter filter in towards the end. Lastly there's "19 Headaches," another bit of unfathomable, or perhaps improvisational ("Quick! We need another track to round out the set!") Autechre jitteriness. Lots of finger-walking up and down keyboards and weird, shuffling percussion, completely bizarre and almost unlistenable.
For folks who already like the duo, this bargain-priced EP is worth it just for "Gelk" — fanatics on the other hand would probably something more from the other tracks as well. Those new to Autechre, "LP5" and the insane masterpiece that is "Tri Repetae" are waiting for you — buy one of them instead and save yourself the trouble of sitting through the filler.

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