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M. Geddes Gengras, "Collected Works Vol. I: The Moog Years"

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My only defense for sleeping on this oft-dazzling album last summer is that nothing makes me wince quite like the word "Moog" these days, as I am sick to death of vintage synthesizer revivalism/fetishism.  That regrettably over-saturated realm is where Gengras shines, however, and several of the pieces on this compilation/retrospective are so great that they easily transcend both their genre and my subjective hostility towards it.  In particular, the 12-minute "Magical Writing" stands as an absolute masterpiece of warm, immersive, and gently hallucinatory drone that should not be missed.

Umor Rex

As alluded to by its title, Collected Works is collection of songs that have previously appeared elsewhere, specifically on four cassette releases spanning a range of labels (Stunned, Ekhein, etc.).  Despite that, it still feels like a completely coherent and effectively sequenced whole, as if Gengras was secretly working on this album all along, but periodically issued dispatches from it as teasers.  In keeping with the unexpectedly well-crafted and satisfying arc of the whole, each of the six individual songs feel like meticulously perfected compositions in their own right, which is a true rarity in such an improv-heavy genre.  Gengras does not exactly avoid the tendency to ride a single theme for the entire duration of a song, but he fleshes out his compositions so skillfully and dynamically that it is not noticeable when he does extendedly linger on just one motif.

Right from the start, Collected Works is attention-grabbingly excellent, as the lush, slow-moving drifts of "10.17.2009" and "Resistor" are warmly, languorously mesmerizing.  The overall effect is like a sky blackened with thick, ominous clouds that never quite block out the sun completely.  The brilliance lies almost entirely in the execution, however, as Gengras is not doing anything particularly new, but he has found the ideal balance of warmth, gravitas, and light.  Also, Geddes is a bit more stylistically varied than most of his peers, as the two brief untitled pieces that follow take the album into more of a melancholy, retro-futurist sci-fi direction with similar success.

The album's centerpiece is the aforementioned epic "Magical Writing," a composition which actually surprised me: I genuinely did not know that something emanating from a Moog could possibly be so wonderful.  In a general sense, it shares a lot stylistic common ground with the warm, glacially moving soundscapes that opened the album, but that is merely the starting point.  The best part is probably the digitized bird sounds in the periphery, as that makes the piece sound like a prolonged, disquieting trip into a hallucinatory forest, but "Writing" is further enhanced and deepened by how gently (and deliciously) warped everything sounds.  Gengras was not just making synth-based ambient drone, he was establishing himself as the Kevin Shields of the Moog, albeit an artfully understated one.

The album winds down with one final piece, the comparatively brief "Inductor," which brings Collected Works to woozily beautiful and slightly sci-fi-damaged close.  It is not nearly as entrancing as the previous "Magical Writing," but that is to be expected, as that is an impossible act to follow.  In any case, "Inductor" makes for a fine coda to one of the most consistently strong and satisfying synth albums that I have ever heard.  The main attraction for Works is certainly "Magical Writing," which I deem to be absolutely essential listening, but it is very difficult to imagine anyone being disappointed by any of the other five pieces.  I hereby belatedly decree that this was one of the best albums of 2013.

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Last Updated on Monday, 31 March 2014 09:08  


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