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Astral Social Club, "Neon Pibroch"

Neal Campbell continues his strong run of releases as Astral Social Club. This album should satisfy fans of his impressive back catalogue, but the music here is good enough to deserve separate treatment and should not be caged in by references to the past.

Important

"Tripel Foment" begins similarly to Campbell's other experiments in ambient beatscapes. A bassy, four-on-the-floor techno pluse pushes the track along pleasantly. But the track becomes compelling when he ditches that rhythm and lets his sounds fly untethered. The song keeps its momentum as scraps of sound detritrus float over the mix like luminous insects. At 12 minutes, the pitch bends up sharply as the song hits its crescendo. A looped guitar riff breaks in while a tremeloed static whirls in the foreground, carrying the beat for a few more minutes till a sudden and jolting rest ends the song.

The rest of the album lacks the percussive backbone which holds up "Tripel Foment," but they hold their own unhurried vitality. The title track meanders for more half its length before finding critical mass. Reversed chime swells and subdued guitar picking float lazily into a thicket of resonate beeps and flanged bellowing. The signal processing fights against this dense buildup, diluting the racket until it becomes a limp mass, percolating into gradual silence. "Big Spree" has the same meditative pacing, being built around a cloudy snyth drone peppered with icy, ringing tones that build into a snow storm of radiant sound particulate.

As detailed as each composition on this record is, they are certainly not fast paced. No song here is under 12 minutes, but Campbell is not the kind of musician that mistakes subtlety for monotony. Stale sounds are gently taken away from the mix or processed into something entirely different. The basic components are very simple: a three note guitar figure; pieces of static; some bells and chimes. Isolated from the whole they would sound thin and artificial, but within the tightly wound arrangements of this album they take on a cosmic immensity.

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Review of the Day

MICROSTORIA, "MODEL 3, STEP 2"
Jan St. Werner (of Mouseon Mars) and Markus Popp (of Oval) have cooked up a third offering of glitchy, cryptic ambience for us, this time without all the rhetoric about music as software and digital revolutions in musical composition. "Nine excursions into the world of downtempo speedcore," as Thrill Jockey's webpage puts it, but to me it sounded like the drones and rumbles that were so fascinating on Mouse on Mars' "Instrumentals" providing an unappreciated undercurrent to Popp's software-generated quirks, bleeps, and glitches. Now and then it resembles a fully realized orchestral work mangled into utter unrecognizability by its composers' computers.
Your reaction to "model 3, step 2" will no doubt be determined by your attitude towards Popp and his studies in computer-generated incoherence. If you're the chin-stroking type who plumbed the fascinating depths of "94diskont," "Dok," and "Ovalprocess" and came back hungry for more, then this will probably prove rewarding after a few listens, or at least briefly interesting. "Dok," the result of another Popp collaboration (with Toyko's Christophe Charles), shimmered with an organic beauty that fails to materialize here; likewise, the weird sonic explorations and occasional thematic coherence that made Microstoria's "INIT DING" worthwhile just aren't apparent. The result is neither compelling nor essential.

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