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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.



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

ml, "Man Is The Warmest Place To Hide"
With this year's eigth Piehead release the Oregon-based ml have curiously decided to crank out a full-length homage to the music of spooky film director and composer, John Carpenter. Many may not know that Carpenter often likes to write the music for his films, giving campy classics like Big Trouble in Little China and Dark Star their appropriately stiff and synth-heavy backing. ml, on the other hand, are more known for their tricked out beats and goofy sense of humor that place them firmly in the west coast new electronic psuedo-dance family these days, so while it's not what I expected from the former Thine Eyes guys, it's not hard to imagine either. I'm not sure how noble it is to crib someone else's style so deliberately that it becomes a tribute, but somehow Man Is The Warmest Place To Hide manages to be both fun and faithful to the source without ever sounding cheap. Well, it's no cheaper than a John Carpenter score so it seems to be working on that level. The music is all a series of simple themes with a filmic overtone that makes them moody but not overly complicated. While the sounds don't come from a Carpenter film, it's easy to see them working with one. Most of the timbres are lifted straight from vintage synths (or vintage synth emulators as may be the case) and the sound design is intentionally not clever or obtrusive. The few places where the guys resort to more recent sounding filters and patches actually take the songs out of that full-on Carpenter world and help bridge the gap between goofy experiment and music that's actually enjoyable on its own. Ml have never established a firm style to my ears over the years. They tend to blend in with other acts from the Pacific northwest who trade in quirky, laptop-fueled post-industrial beat making and so it's a little ballsy for them to put something like this out that gives most of the stylistic cues up to unseen source material. I'd like to see more people try this sort of thing, if only to see what talented musicians can do with an artificial but well-understood set of limitations. The obvious question is: is the record worth listening to outside of the context of the John Carpenter angle, and I'm not sure about that. I suppose the answer lies in how much you like John Carpenter's music. It definitely feels a little cheesy if you take away the idea that it's an homage, but if you know going in what it's all about, it's quite a fun thing to spin. As it stands though, this is my favorite batch of ml songs to date, and I'm not sure what that means for the rest of their discography. What it means for now is that Piehead scores again with another release we're not likely to have seen without this special series, which is pretty awesome. 


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