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Mr. Tophat - Dusk to Dawn Music Album Reviews

The Swedish producer and frequent Robyn collaborator offers an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes.
Hardcore Robyn fans already know the work of Swedish producer Rudolf Nordström, aka Mr. Tophat. He co-produced “Baby Forgive Me” and “Beach2k20,” two of the gorgeous, gently filtered house-pop tracks from last year’s Honey; his own 2017 release Trust Me, a three-song, 35-minute EP of throbbing, desaturated grooves, featured Robyn throughout. His latest solo release, Dusk to Dawn, is an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes. More melodic than the distortion-warped A Memoir From the Youth, two and a half hours of mostly chill, mid-tempo house conceal interesting moments within slack expanses. At its best, it’s a triple-album endurance listen that rewards partial concentration; at its slowest, it’s an illustration that Tophat’s signature long-format tracks don’t scale.

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Brendon Anderegg - June Music Album Reviews

Brendon Anderegg - June Music Album Reviews

In the 37-minute piece that comprises his first solo album since 2005, the Mountains multi-instrumentalist ditches the distractions of the attention economy to luxuriate in a stream of consciousness.

Deep listening, extended listening, immersive listening—these are not novel concepts, but they do seem increasingly radical, and perhaps even endangered. Every year, the apparently irreversible march of technology chips away at our ability to focus, one crumbling nanosecond at a time. The attention economy turns concentration transactional, substituting red-dot rewards for the fluid pleasures of the stream of consciousness. Songs get shorter. Hooks sharpen. Images simplify, optimized for thumbnail view.

That’s not to say that great art is impossible in a distracted age. The young rapper-producer Tierra Whack recently proved that some ideas are so potent, they don’t need much runway. Her debut album found new dimensions in pop by breaking it open and letting the pieces tumble out like the insides of a kaleidoscope to reveal 15 perfectly proportioned baubles, each exactly one minute long. But to fashion music after the long tidal arc instead of the hiccup of the wired dopamine drip is to defend a different sort of value system. It is to decouple attention from economy, to insist that there need not always be a payoff.

Brendon Anderegg’s music has long been keyed to subtlety. In the early 2000s, recording solo under just his surname, he harnessed field recordings, tape loops, and electronics into crackling, rustling configurations not much more forceful than the scrape of a turned page. His duo Mountains, with Koen Holtkamp, channeled acoustic instruments into blissfully shimmering soundscapes imbued with the scent of the American heartland—a homegrown riposte to European cosmic music.

June is Anderegg’s first major solo release in well over a decade. A single, 37-minute piece, it represents the most focused, minimalist music of his career. The first thing you notice is the suppleness of the sound: a lone synthesizer, twitching and bending at the edges, like a scrap of paper as it burns. That thin, twisting filament of tone is soon joined by a fluttering chord. There are no audible attacks, no traces of a key being pressed; sounds slink into earshot like Spanish dancers rippling across a diver’s peripheral vision. These are the elements that carry the listener through the next half-hour, shifting and morphing. Occasionally they drift down to a bassy near-silence; in the climactic final third of the piece, they build themselves back up into buzzing thickets of chords overlaid with aquatic gurgles, a spray of pulse and overtones reminiscent of Emeralds’ What Happened.

The music’s meandering flow resists interpretation; even its constituent parts—is that a synthesizer patch or a glassy scrap of feedback?—can defy identification. There is a lyrical quality to the melody, such as it is, an unmistakably expressive dimension to the way it twists and turns. Still, it is possible to imagine this as a composition with no guiding hand behind it—that Anderegg simply set the knobs on his boxes just so, flipped a switch, and walked away while the tape was running.

This ambiguity is the album’s defining quality. The pulses are quick, but the pacing is slow. There is little distinction between background and foreground. It’s impossible to say what is intentional and what is incidental. Is this “ambient music”? Yes and no; it is, above all, a music of in-betweenness. And in an increasingly binary world, that very slipperiness counts for quite a lot. June is equally suited for focused listening and gentle background hum, and it is entirely possible, over the course of its run, to toggle back and forth between the two states. That ability to cut a third way between attention and distraction is precisely what makes June feel so freeing.

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