Review: Talaboman, 'The Night Land'
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An air of nonchalance hangs over Talaboman's debut album. To read producers John Talabot and Axel Boman describe their collaboration, there's not much to it: just "a Catalan and a Swede talking blip blop until we felt that we had something worth saying." As for which thematic platitudes might best describe that "something," the underwhelming admissions — "a journey to reach our subconscious," to "push imagination," "open your mind," the realization that "love is all this world needs" — all make a decent case that sometimes the "blip blop" should speak for itself.
Especially since, on The Night Land, a full-length follow-up to "Sideral", the excellent one-off Talaboman track for Talabot's lefter-than-leftfield 2014 DJ-Kicks! mix, their "blip blop" actually says quite a bit — specifically pertaining the role of synthesizer music in those European dance circles where classic house and techno strategies have once again hit a cul de sac. Without grandstanding, it raises the question: What lanes are open to producers with melodic and avant-garde streaks, who also take seriously the populist (and commercial) appeal of freeing as many asses as possible?
In recent years, both the Barceloni Talabot and Gothenburg's Boman have found far-ranging success in dance music and its adjacents by pursuing creative whims on the outskirts of club culture. They've often engaged ideas and structures more in keeping with drone-oriented indie and post-punk experimentalism, or new-age psychedelia. The best of their own individual tracks — and the records they oversee via their labels (Talabot's Hivern Discs, and the Boman-cofounded Studio Barnhus) — radiate with the feeling of live-playing or absurd endeavor rather than beat programming. (Though late-generation house has remained a persistent, if often distant metronome.) So it is with The Night Land, an album that only occasionally captures the dance, even if it's likely to be pigeonholed as such due to its creators' reputations and a preoccupation with rhythm.
Thematic oddities are present from the onset. With its rain-sticks, mix of martial and machine drumming, and an ominous ambiance (treated vocals, feedback synth), "Midnattsol" sounds more like a "Drums/Space" segment of a 1980s Grateful Dead concert or one of Brian Eno's Fourth World excursions, than a club track. And the follow-up, "Safety Changes," weaves through nearly six and a half minutes of melodic keyboard abstraction, gracefully splitting the difference between simple synth-pop repetitions and the saccharine space-age radicalism of Warp Records artists like Plaid or Plone, before mixing in an undercurrent of distorted electronics.
These actively lo-fidelity textures — deep drones, feedback and distortion, elongated lines that begin to take on the function of solos — appearing in musical spaces not known for hosting them, are a central part of The Night Land's overall fabric. Evoking multiple generations of European radicalizers, from Manuel Göttsching to the Sex Tags Mania crew, all these tracks take one strange turn after another, until, by the end, the album has formulized the notion that its pieces will end in places quite different from where they began.
This is especially true with the album's more club-oriented tracks. Both "Loser's Hymn" and "The Ghosts Hood," for instance, unfold around a muted kick-drum — the former guided by cymbals and a deeply melancholy melody; the latter by layers of shakers, cowbells and keyboard repetitions — forming likeable if perfunctory grooves easy to find at 4 a.m. peak-hours all over the planet. Yet a third of the way through "Ghosts," small shards of unlikely noise begin to breach the atmosphere, and a stark, deep-toned synth minimalism takes over; a beatless synth duet floats over a hospital heartbeat sensor to clearly accentuate the funereal point.
The same synthesizer joins midway through "Hymn" to begin a call and response, altering that track's trajectory as well. The keys continue their conversation, percolating as the song rides off towards a sunrise, one low-end and bellicose, the other fleeting in the upper registers. What they are saying isn't anything new or definitive, but the very essence and context of the exchange communicates something potentially essential.
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