August 22, 2008


Ripple (Tomlab 2003)

Let’s get all of my overused adjectives out of the way before discussing Fonica’s Ripple LP. It is pastoral, soothing, mellow, gorgeous, ethereal, otherwordly among other suitable ways to describe the music of this Japanese duo. I’m being a bit of a wiseass about adjectives because it seems like all of my favorite albums attract such descriptions. Fonica puts me in that that blissful place that Stars of the Lid, Fripp and Eno’s Evening Star, Cocteau Twins’ Victorialand and William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops never fail to inspire. Never heard of the band in my life, but picked it up for two bucks in a local budget bin due to the fact that it was released by the excellent German label, Tomlab. It seems as if many folks sympathetic to the sound of drones and whirrs haven’t yet encountered what may be one of the unsung classics of the genre. That’s a shame since Ripple is a special album that sounds like its contemporaries, but repeated listens reveal layers upon layers of intricacy that push it beyond the reach of its peers.

I believe Fonica is no more, but Keiichi Sugimoto continues to mine similar veins with his work as Fourcolor, Minamo and Filfla. I like the Fourcolor and Minamo albums quite a bit and they are worth investigating, but his work on Ripple has this childlike quality to it. Each song is simplistic, repetitive lullaby that slowly reveals more elements until you are entranced by each creation. The title of this album is apt because each instrument, drone and muffled beat does indeed ripple outward in minsicule gestures and waves. On my most hectic, hair-pulling days, I can always count on Ripple to loosen the knots and focus the mind on better places and states of mind. I hope it can do the same for your troubled soul.

Mantler – Sadisfaction

June 19, 2008


Sadisfaction (Tomlab 2002)

I’ve always felt that the German Tomlab label doesn’t get the attention it deserves. From the lush glitches of Tujiko Noriko and The Books to the ambient ear candy of Sack and Blumm and Rafael Toral, it boasts more hits than misses. However, the label’s best, yet criminally unheard album is by Canadian Chris Cummings otherwise known as Mantler. If this album was released in the 70s, collectors would hail him as an eccentric loner akin to Skip Spence’s Oar or John Phillips’ Wolf King of LA. Now, it is a few steps below those in quality, but Sadisfaction exists in its own idiosyncratic universe.

On the surface, Sadisfaction is a gloomy, plodding electronic pop album with lots of retro keyboards, but Cummings’ lyrics must document a personal breakdown of some sort. For example, “I’ve Been Destroyed” features a creepy slowed down loop of him singing “I’ve been destroyed and broken down” as he testifies about how he is a masochistic cliche for allowing others to get close to him. The opener “You Were Free” deals with the crushing sadness he feels as he wakes up alone and goes on tear himself up over his tendency to think instead of act. Yeah, it all sounds like a page torn from a teenage diary, but his robotic take on Kraftwerkian soul hearkens back to the the 70s psychedelic soul balladry and Fender Rhodes work on Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone and Frederick Knight’s sadder tunes. However, it is much nerdier and asexual. I guess that is why he has been rejected so much that he has created an album like this. He even reminds me of a sane Gary Wilson on a few times. God, I maybe talking this album up too much because I can see how you may download this and be unimpressed and wonder why I ever described this as robotic soul. Me, I love every narcissistic, paranoid, insecure second.