I Am Robot and Proud
The Catch / Spring Summer Autumn Winter
2001/2; r: 2007
o some listeners, the distortion afforded by vinyl sounds warm and humane. Certain production styles, effect pedals, types of feedback, and so on all carry their particular nostalgic charge for the right audiences, and Shaw-Han Liem specializes in crafting his deceptively gentle, wordless electro-pop out of the kind of warm, bouncy tones that for a certain generation will always be redolent of innocent play and clean living. Think Lullatone, Pram, and other suggestively titled outfits, or even the least danceable parts of Plaid crossed with the least sinister, vocal and insufferable bits of Múm.
That description will make up many peoples' minds about the worth of his work as I Am Robot and Proud, for better or for worse, and if subsequent efforts don't come across as twee as The Catch they also diluted what made it so comforting. The album (barely more than half an hour) is the aural equivalent of taking a long time to wake up, or puttering around your apartment happily humming to yourself while it snows outside. There's not a sharp edge anywhere: songs like “Saturday Afternoon Plans” or “Eyes Closed Hopefully” are described almost too perfectly by their titles. The Catch seems to exist in a world where nothing ever goes wrong, where melodies balance precariously between attention-getting and soothing, and a smile and some mild head-nodding is all music aims to get from you.
Which is, of course, the strength of Liem's work. A world where all music sounded like this would at best be picayune and at worst nightmarish; but after another brutally long day at work and after another night of too little sleep, it's hard not to be thankful for the sanded off edges, where every tone is pleasing and nothing much happens. I don't begrudge people who seek more from even their musical comfort food, but the brief and perfectly calibrated eight songs that make up The Catch are an ideal palate cleanser between doses of more confrontational fare, or to drift off to at night. The 2002 EP Spring Summer Autumn Winter appended here brings the running time up to fifty minutes without noticeably altering the feel; except for the barely-there vocals on “Last Day of Winter” they could have been seamlessly interwoven with the original program.
In a way it's a pity that the slightly more active, okay-now-get-up-and-go feel of “Julie's Equation” no longer ends things, but the EP functions more like a snooze button; sooner or later you're going to have to get up and venture into that unfeeling world again (and crucially, you don't really want to avoid it forever, no matter how tired and stressed you are), but hitting pause for another fifteen minutes or so never hurt anyone. People who don't need music like I Am Robot and Proud's are either lucky, dead on the inside, or kidding themselves, but for the rest of us this re-release is less a time capsule and more of a chance to get reacquainted with that impossibly comfortable blanket you had as a kid.