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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

Trans Am, "TA"
Man, I am so upset. I usually run out and buy Trans Am albums the day they come out (the only band I do that with!), but their latest album is SO terrible, SO wretched, SO miserable, that I am actually angry. Personally offended, even. That the band would have the audacity to publish this crap colors my experience of all the other Trans Am albums. It's depressing! It appears that the irony that has always lurked in the background of previous albums is the only quality present here. "TA" is entirely reference: "We like OMD, wink wink... overblown MOR rock is funny, wink wink... I'll bet a rap in Spanish would be a ridiculous thing to include on one of our records, yuk yuk". A parody is potentially fine, as long as it offers something deeper than what it initally appears to be. "Future World", for instance, was certainly a Kraftwerk reference, but it's also a great album in its own right. "Red Line" referenced Suicide, but it didn't end there. The Van Halen-like rock-out sections of all the previous albums work because the band REALLY IS rocking out, and the Stewart Copeland-esque drum workouts worked precisely because they used the Police as a starting point on the way to something new. But "TA" is useless. As a joke, it's a thin one. If it's an intentionally unfunny joke, then it fails as that, too. When a band starts writing songs that sound like Loverboy, they are only as good as the context; so when the context is merely a knowing wink, it's pretentious, it's instantly dated ("remember that time when it was funny to sound like Loverboy?"), and the songs still just sound like Loverboy. Sure, there have been entire albums that succeed as parodies of popular genres (the Residents' "Third Reich n' Roll" springs to mind, as does Neil Young's "Trans") and hold up decades after they are published, but this isn't one of them. As a suddenly-former Trans Am fan, I feel ripped off and insulted. They were the one band that I've been sure to catch at every tour, whose albums and concerts I anticipate. This latest album doesn't appear to be "good" on any level. Bye bye, Trans Am... hello Trans Awful. - 

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