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Relaxer - Coconut Grove Music Album Reviews

Relaxer - Coconut Grove Music Album Reviews After years of kicking against dance music’s strictures, Daniel Martin-McCormick delivers something close to a pure techno album. A product of turmoil, it’s a satisfyingly confident statement.
Daniel Martin-McCormick’s past always seems to dominate the conversation about his present. No matter how many new groups he’s formed or new aliases he’s tried on for size, his music continues to be evaluated through the lens of his earliest projects. Since 2002, Martin-McCormick has logged lengthy stints in groups like Black Eyes and Mi Ami and recorded solo as Sex Worker and Ital. (Full disclosure: he’s also an occasional contributor to Pitchfork.) Launched in 2016 with a series of five self-released EPs, Relaxer is the New York producer’s latest undertaking, and his new album, Coconut Grove, potentially represents a final, complete break from his noisy post-hardcore roots.

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Lindstrøm - On a Clear Day I Can See You Forever Music Album Reviews

The Scandinavian synthesizer maven pays dusts off dozens of arcane, vintage machines in an all-hardware studio recording meant to summon the spirit of bygone circuitry.

Robert Moog’s mid-century, tinker-friendly analog synthesizers were originally “hammered out in the pub” and “assembled out of junk,” write Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco in Analogue Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer. The dream was to make sounds like nothing else on Earth, which could be then be made by absolutely anyone on Earth.


But by the 1980s, the dream was fading. Moog’s instruments were, in the end, whimsical and unwieldy. Bigger companies made simpler, more powerful machines. The Memorymoog, in 1982, would be the last thing Moog made for decades, and it was a polyphonic powerhouse. But it lacked touch sensitivity, which meant it basically just played loud, and its presets varied wildly; users switching from machine to machine had to pray the strings didn’t sound like brass. In a Hail Mary pass to stay solvent, Moog salesman David Van Koevering, a former evangelical preacher, repackaged a hundred or so unsold models as “Sanctuary Synthesizers,” added a bunch of pious patches, and sold the lot to Christian music makers. Bankruptcy still arrived.

Then a cult arose around these wooden boxes of wires. Devotees turned the Moog, like relics of the houses of Korg, ARP, and Roland, into a status symbol. Original Moogs are now incredibly expensive, both in terms of cost and the time it takes to learn to use and maintain them. They look great among the fiddle-leaf fig trees on your frenemy’s feed. They are fetish objects at last, prized more for what they are than what they can do.

None of this is Hans-Peter Lindstrøm’s fault. Over the course of his 16-year-career he’s floated to the front of the third-wave analog revival, lifting the wow and flutter of predecessors like Stereolab and Faze Action and sending them into a Scandinavian disco jam-band dimension. Tracks like “Closing Shot,” “Blinded by the LEDs,” and of course the deathless “I Feel Space” demonstrated a command of form and function. Clearly he’s mastered his machinery: On a Clear Day I Can See You Forever arrives in the wake of his performance at Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, commissioned on the occasion of the art space’s 50th anniversary and conscripting untold riches to procure some 30 hard-to-source synthesizers and drum machines.

One of them, a Memorymoog, as it happens, forms the foundation of the new album’s title track. He dusted one off and explored what he could do with it in 10 minutes, then played it back in reverse while improvising on the Fender Rhodes; a little perfuming with a Hammond through a wah-wah and some spring-reverbs, and, well, the sum of the parts is the sum of the track. The genius of, for example, those old Boards of Canada interludes was how they dissipated before their mystery ran out. “On a Clear Day I Can See You Forever” instead hopes for meaning through repetition, exploiting the precariousness of its electrical pulses as they stream through metal effects units. A rumble about eight minutes in scared the devil out of my cats, but soon enough they were snoring again in a puddle of sun.

The second track, “Really Deep Snow,” is anchored by a covetable Roland SH-101 and administered by various ARPs, Korgs, and Wurlitzers. It’s another almost 10-minute improv, whose main chords pay tribute to a psalm Lindstrøm heard in church as a child. Its vibe is certainly more Halloween (2018), though, a reincarnation of unholy terror as the anxiety of influence. John Carpenter was, without a doubt, the patron saint of arpeggiated epics; “Really Deep Snow” is a pious tribute, if one is needed.

Which can’t be said of the third track, titled by a lousy joke that feels, well, profane. How about we not appropriate the sacrament of an African American spiritual promising biblical deliverance from slavery in the service of a hardware pun? How about we not “Swing Low, Sweet LFO,” with its plinky Pianet and sugary Prophet 6 sweeps, less offensive than Moby’s appropriation of spirituals for car commercials but also, unfortunately, very much not as memorable?

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Still, as in Christianity, redemption comes in the end. “As If No One Is Here” reincarnates a tone poem by Jean Sibelius, itself based on the Finnish national epic Kalevala, which tells the story of a swan being hunted in the realm of the dead. And that’s exactly what it sounds like: a murky suspension of endangered grace. A Roland TR-77 drips like water off stalactites into pools of Yamaha CS-60 chords, deeper than they first appear. Halfway through, acoustic cello and violin cut through like slits of moonlight and everything stills without settling down. Korg MS20 and ARP Solina Strings summon grimmer harmonies. There are echoes of Eno and Badalamenti, though “As If No One Is Here” feels looser than either would allow; perhaps Lindstrøm is better at mixing inspiration than at improvisation new forms.

Nonetheless, in moments, On a Clear Day I Can See You Forever is proof that there’s reason to have faith in these elite objects, these inventions of the dead that still somehow call out to us. Ignore the yuppie collectors who think that owning something improves their worth, or that hoarding these rarities will somehow save them from the grave. Lindstrøm may have timed these tracks to fit on a vinyl record, another sign of putting material concerns over creative vision, but there’s a good 15 minutes of so of beauty within those grooves that just might make a believer out of you.


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