Monday, July 20, 2009

Robert Millis - 120 [Etude]

This is a new solo CD by Robert Millis of Seattle weirdo mainstays Climax Golden Twins and also their current collaboration with A-Frames, the unholy wrecking crew AFCGT.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Millis’s solo work but each of the four tracks on this CD works similarly with a usually extended (and hilarious) pastiche of music and dialogue samples leading into mellow, relaxing (but sometimes unnerving) sounds of a synthesizer. The first track “1 (40s is not good)” features some transistor radio static, a great old timey piano sample and one side of a pretty funny phone conversation, probably snatched from an old movie. From here the track descends into semi-rhythmic clangs in a metal room of some kind before doing a complete 180 to impeccably blissful synthesizer about halfway through the track. There are heaps of smooth sheets of synth, save for one that keeps flickering like an old light bulb. “2 (all balled up)” more than doubles the previous track length to 20 minutes. It kicks off with an either incomprehensible or foreign language voice sample before an awesome recording of some kind of traditional African music and some American samples about using a telephone. Some of the glistening synth from the last piece glides in over sparse field recordings of maybe a campsite or something akin to it. The piece has a really natural feel where it’s close to silent for a while until a train crossing alarm, and the train itself, fill the track with noise. There’s an abrupt transition to tranquil synthesizer from the locomotive clatter. There may be something going on here other than synth but everything is so washed out with reverb its tough to get specific, though I hear some cymbal-esque resonations buried in the track. The tranquility eventually turns meaner, uncomfortably swollen and dissonant. Another abrupt cut reveals a sloshing sea and a muted string instrument of some sort. The third track “0 ( suspended)” begins atypically for the record because instead of samples, you're first hit with trebly, rapidly growing synth. Underneath it there’s a string sample or maybe just another keyboard, but there’s something pushing against the synthesizer creating an almost seasick feel. It’s a really strange but totally captivating effect; it’s difficult to get a good grasp on the piece, it just kinda slips through your fingers in a way. The piece is among the best, most effective compositions I’ve heard during this recent ambient synth revival. “(charcoal twins)” returns to the beginning, transistor static and two men arguing, hilariously, over revolution and monkeys. Rather than synth though, guitars emerge from the fog of the samples. A simple acoustic guitar strumming and electric one playing lead; it’s incredibly warm, mellow and melodic and ending on this note changes the vibe of the album radically.
The album takes you on a strange little journey, between the warmth of the various samples and the final guitar piece and the chilliness of the synthesizer. Millis manages to make lots of disparate pieces seem coherent in the context of an album, which is a pretty tricky thing to do.
The CD is available from Etude records out of Toronto.

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