ecording under the name Kptmichigan, Michael Beckett has focused his attention on electronic minimalism. His latest release, Kptmichigan, continues in this vein, with Beckett creating his songs around simple guitar parts and basic beats before grinding them down to levels of noise and intimidating inaccessibility. While Beckett’s work contains hooks that might be memorable, you’ll most likely retain the memory of a disc that’s too often more work than its worth, even if it almost has something to say.

The best minimalist music evokes moods or images through slight changes in the midst of repetitive, simplistic sounds. Texture is all-important, compared to the usual primary elements of melody and rhythm. On his best tracks, like “evry noW and theN,” he works with subtle transitions, building and tearing down his musical ideas to create an emotional effect. On other pieces, such as “SUNMaSK!” he puts up a noisy facade to obscure any structural or tonal development.

But it’s hard to pigeonhole Kptmichigan so simply. Beckett displays enough pop influences to keep him from orbiting a Glass or Reich planet, and he even ventures into his own terrain with a certain ambition. However, it all too often smacks of a debilitating eclecticism—not a healthy one. Beckett sounds like a man trying on too many styles. His returns to the minimalist school are effective when utilized as a response to the pop formats he seeks to critique and disassemble, but he too often chooses to rely purely on noise (think “static” instead of “dissonance”).

Despite the album having these major flaws, it’s not without its strong points. The songs closest to pop work best from both a musical and theoretical perspective. Partly their success is contingent upon the lack of development in the minimal noise passages. On an album loaded with steady fuzz, the tracks with hooks and choruses stand out. These numbers are as likely to be influenced by early psychedelia as they are by krautrock, and Beckett lifts technique and style well from his predecessors. “some people cRy” best represents these numbers. After a messy, distorted intro, it’s catchy, but short and undeveloped, raising questions about the use of riffs, the importance of refrains, and more. Beckett follows this number with “some people take tablets,” positioning himself as pop traditionalist before ending the song abruptly and heading back into noise territory. The tactic is smart and gleefully unpredictable, but “SUNMaSK!” is a total flop.

The problems on the album don’t stem from creativity or intellect, but from execution. It seems as though the album had the promise of being able to play pop against classical against avant, developing new ideas and connections between each. What’s missing, though, is the essential part: an emotional core or even a sustained thematic approach. Kptmichigan can’t quite make the big statement that Beckett hints at and, in the process, merely comes off as an inconsistent effort of an overly ambitious artist. Beckett’s certainly someone to root for, but I’ll probably do much more of that than listening to this in the near future.

Reviewed by: Justin Cober-Lake

Reviewed on: 2005-01-04

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