Well Tempered Ignorance by Jonathan James Carr (Seattle, Washington)
Well Tempered Ignorance might be something other than just music. It is possibly a collection of the sounds that each component of a spaceship makes as it’s revving up for faster-than-light travel, or possibly it is something even further from comprehension. Whatever it may be, Jonathan James Carr’s album sounds like pure electronic exploration. Well Tempered Ignorance is the rare electronic album to insist upon its components sounding like they’ve occurred somewhere outside of music while maintaining the tonal integrity and some of the structure of an album of songs.
There is definitely a stigma, especially stemming from people who don’t listen to it, that electronic music is particularly susceptible to sounding too artificial. In fact, a lot of electronic music is hurt by a lack of humanity that is essential to music, even when this absence is intentional, as it often is. This is not to say that the goal of electronic music should be to sound live or to sound organic and natural, but simply that it should recognize the humanity inherent in the technologies it is derived from. And Carr does manage to produce electronic music that sounds totally organic, albeit in a different sense; it is almost as though his songs are field recordings of some incredible, not yet invented machinery.
Laser-blast synth sounds rev in and out indiscriminately, shifting between succinct, robotic arpeggiation and amenable melodies. Carr manages to seamlessly blend his more standard synth-based electronics with found sounds and even elements of distortion and reverberation not uncommon to bedroom pop, moments that come as seriously delightful surprises.
The tape’s first half, with tracks like ‘Squigglizer Overture’ and ‘UFO Renaissance,’ is definitely the more in your face side and the more aesthetically “out there” of the two. Every moment on side A sounds like it’s been borne straight from the entire human canon of science fiction to alight gracefully on your speakers. The two-track side B (‘My Voice As I Am’ and ‘Stereo Music For Electrocomp EML-200 Modular + Lossy Field Recording 20:18’) is more meditative, and at times close to orchestral in its more serious ambitions. There is less clanking around and less wild gesticulation on side B, and more swelling, more posing, more symphonic posturing.
There are moments on Well Tempered Ignorance, especially within the album’s second half, when everything seems like it make more sense as the orchestration on a post-rock song than as its own true entity. But Carr puts so much effort into exploring these sounds that they start to open up in ways that they wouldn’t as interludes or as background noise. In a big way, this is album is standing up for the sounds that most people would see as tertiary or unnecessary. As a result, there was a lot of potential to make something boring; Jonathan James Carr manages instead to take otherwise discarded moments and give them a sense of urgency and necessity.
Heloise by Noah Wall (Brooklyn, New York)
Noah Wall’s Heloise exists in a very dirty middle ground between electronica and indie pop, someplace which is at times almost despicably bleak but always attractive and always fastened to a deconstructed idea of pop. This is an album of bleakness and of blankness, and one which certainly intends to overwhelm. Rather than try to be lush or gorgeous, Wall attempts to be chilling, and the result is a finely tuned blend of “on the margins” electronica and singer-songwriter pop.
It might take a few listens to realize that there is a lot more to Heloise’s instrumentation than the typical electronic fare. Fortunately, this is an album deserving of more than a few listens, and one that manages to please even as it is being taken apart. It’s difficult to determine whether this is an album that fell out of Wall in an emotional sense, in the way that so many pop albums do, or if it is one that was meticulously constructed.
The standout track on Heloise is ‘Red Station,’ a song that would not be out of place as the welcoming theme music for a woodland town in a video-game This song is nearly twee in comparison to the rest of the album, and very much devoted to a sense of welcoming but also to the idea of concealment. On an album that is hardly invested in seasonal concerns, ‘Red Station’ manages to soundtrack the respite of one last nice day at the end of autumn, when it’s warm enough to hang around outside but the cold of the months to come is already in the air, at least a little bit.
Ending on the hypnotizing monotone of ‘Wake Pattern,’ Heloise seems to shrug out quite abruptly, and you might realize that you have suddenly found yourself expecting there to be more, even craving more. Heloise is not for everybody; it’s an album that revels in the artificial and the inhuman, even when it diverts from a fully electronic sound with more standard rock instruments. Like other genre-straddling albums, it could be hard for some to find a place for Heloise. This is a pop album disguised as something else, as something more sinister and more obtuse than it should be; perhaps the real joy derived from Heloise is in working out what this deception might be.