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Minamo, "Durée"

cover imageHaving been stalwarts in the Japanese electroacoustic microsound scene for over a decade now, the quartet has always focused on unifying the usually disparate worlds of laptop based programming and improvised organic music.  For their second release on the 12k label, they have done exactly that, marrying acoustic guitar with software patches, all presented in a warm, post-rock influenced analog audio bath.

 

12k

Minamo - Durée

The opening of "Elementary Domain" matches beeping tones and distant noises with the untreated pure sound of guitar strings and bells.  The structure is definitely one of a more abstract and laptop-composed nature, but the parts used are definitely warm ambient pop, weaving together a complex piece that is far more natural and inviting than expected.  "Help Ourselves" has a similar feeling to it, but employs a great deal of warm piano, shimmering analog strings, and all so subtle laptop noises.

Surprisingly enough, the remainder of the songs are, for the most part, actually more "natural" sounding. "When Unwelt Melts" is a slow building piece that begins with the gentle chimes of a music box, with a bit of acoustic guitar above.  As it continues, the addition of analog and digital instrumentation fleshes out the song, leading through a natural evolution that delicate and beautiful.  "Helical Scenery" also joins acoustic guitar and shaker percussion with soft synth textures.  As the track is given room to grow and change, lush accordion-like tones and more pronounced guitar intermingle above the subtle keyboards.

Towards the latter half of the disc the music becomes slightly more forceful and obtuse, but never out of control.  "Be Born" mixes lush, infinite harmonium and harmonica passages with abstract organ noodling, and by the time the massive, crashing percussion shows up at the end, the track rivals some of the best krautrock out there.  The long piece, "First Breathing At Last," again uses the digital elements as instruments alongside synths and guitar to create a structured, yet rhythmically disjointed piece that definitely has structure to it, but a very abstract and esoteric one.  The track allows the heavier synths and electronics to rise up at the end, creating a heavy, but not oppressive sensation.

One thing that separates them from so many other laptop artists is the fact that Minamo is a band.  They play together, mostly working with live recordings, and use laptops and other digital based technology as instruments, not as a crutch.  The music they create has that organic, "live" feel to it, even though the instrumentation is at times anything but traditional.  Like label mates Small Color, there is a warmth and soul here, proving that digital music does not need to be abrasive and inhuman.

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Review of the Day

Cornelius, "Five Point One"; Belle & Sebastian, "Fans Only
Matador
Five Point One is comprised of two discs: a DVD compiling all ten the videos from Cornelius's 2002 album Point and an audio CD of remixes from the album contributed by fans as part of a contest. The videos, while creative, have a subtle, background feel to them, and seem to be intended more for use in Cornelius's live shows than on their own (and indeed, they were played as a backdrop during his tour for Point). While not wholly uninteresting, the videos are static in their content, usually relying on one or two primary images. "Point of View Point" shows cars and trains in motion, while "Drop" features a little boy standing in front of a sink while the water, synchonized to the beat, drips into the basin. The most enjoyable of the videos is "Tone Twilight Zone," with its images of two fingers walking (Yellow Pages-style) through a landscape of ordinary household objects. The remix CD, PM, is a mixed bag, running the gamut from electronic dance to japanoise to thrashy rock. Some are cute and catchy, and others are forgettable.

Fans Only takes on the task of documenting Belle & Sebastian's inception in 1995 through their seven years of recordings for Matador and Jeepster. Their videos and live footage from various performances around ther world are interwoven into behind-the-scenes material and interviews. The videos proper are largely charmingly appropriate twee shots of the band (there are at least a few where they're seen clutching various stuffed animals) and their friends using super-8 cameras and other low-budget equipment. Highlights include a rendition of France Gall's "Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son," recorded for French television and the video for "Legal Man," which features the band decked out in full mod regalia on stage in a decadent nightclub surrounded by freely flowing martinis and bellydancers, and a hilarious interview with the band for a Brazilian TV show. Clocking in at 136 minutes, Fans Only drags at times, but is for the most entertaining and does an excellent job of capturing the lighthearted, playful essence of the band. 
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