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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

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, "Pig Lib"
Invariably, the image of an artist has to have a measured effect on their music, be it a positive or negative one. Some bands are all image and can't muster a good song to meet it, while others have full sounds and amazing songs but absolutely no image. Pavement certainly fit in the latter category, a band that had so little self image they couldn't even properly announce their own demise. With Pavement gone, Stephen Malkmus emerged from the ashes to make music that is all image, little substance, and completely mediocre. What with the pin-up shots for men's magazines and interviews about his sex life, it seems Mr. Malkmus has had little time to formulate anything besides a passable effort on his second solo LP, which also marks the first time he's shared the bill with his backing band the Jicks. He still has a knack for quirky, understated lyrics, and no one can take that away from him, but the music on Pig Lib is in stylistic shambles. Some fans have tried to explain it away with terms like "indie prog" and lengthy descriptions of the darker imagery, but they can't describe around the fact that it's dull. True, Malkmus gets closer to the Pavement sound on this record only in that it's sloppier than his last release. The band does sound more in tune with each other, like these songs are creations of the whole crew, but they trip along like a wounded animal rather than stroll or strut. From the playful nature of "Water and a Seat," with its call and answer and cacophonous backing vocals to the too long jam of "1% of One," Malkmus does sound more comfortable in his voice and the melodies are pretty catchy. That makes it all the more disappointing when there's no pay off. The songs that have promise are too short, and the ones that have nowhere to go get there and stay there far too long. I started getting into the album a little on "(Do Not Feed The) Oyster," but was turned away by the drum roll break into jam territory. All over the album are annoying sounds and noises, usually the overly campy keyboards from Mike Clark and Malkmus himself. Anchoring it all together is an overwhelming feeling that this record exists only as a marketing tool, released just so Malkmus can say he "stretched his legs" on a release and "tried something different." Malkmus' image is the only thing that holds this record together and the reason why rabid fans have already bought every copy on the shelves in the local record shop. For most fans, the man can do no wrong. For me, he certainly tried to do wrong all over this record, and sometimes he succeeded beyond all doubt or reason.


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