Phonem
Ilisu
Morr Music
2001
B-

anticipations ran high for Ilisu. With the release of Hydroelectric, Elliot Perkins burst onto the IDM scene with an incredibly self assured second record that has stood the test of time and has become one of the hallmarks of the genre. After a well received collaboration with Arovane, Perkins began to work on his third record.


Instead of allowing the music to speak for itself, as most IDM musicians tend to, Perkins has enclosed an essay in the liner notes outlining the Ataturk’s mishandling of the Ilisu dam in Turkey. But instead of being over saturated with vocal samples referring to the atrocity of the government’s obvious mishandling of the situation, Phonem delivers a stellar record, devoid of any political sloganeering until the final song, which is built entirely out of vocal samples taken from speeches and newscasts.


It is apparent, however, that Phonem’s sound on this release has become a bit darker than the previous Hydroelectric and Phonetik. While he works the same sort of harsh metallic percussive work with softer synth laden melody lines, Perkins tone seems to be harder edged and pointed, rather than a more rounded off approach as heard on Hydroelectric. More digital signal processing is used here- digital squeaks and anomalies abound in the mechanized funk that is approximated in Phonem's drum patterns.


It is the shortness of the pieces, which has never characterized his work before, that counfound the Phonem aficionado. Known primarily for his slow moving epic works that slowly allow melody and beat to intertwine in an almost hypnotic way, Phonem has shortened the songs, on the whole, and allowed less time for the listener to become entranced with the melodies or endless permutations of the beat.


Hearing the frist track, however, would seem to deny this. “Ilisu”, the opener, is very close to vintage Phonem. It’s 11 minutes long, moves along languidly until the insertion of the beat, and allows ample time for contemplation between the time that the beat has entered and the song ends. It is after this, though, that things begin to become more compact and harder edged. This can be seen most obviously in the nearly industrial sounding “War By Any Other Means”. With every thrust of the bass drum one feels that Perkins is attempting to impose his will on every politician or media person that has added to the problem in Turkey. It is a dark song, allowing for almost no melody to shine through the utter barrage of beats and shards of static that highlight the track. An ominous bass pad is the only traditional note being played and it hangs low over the proceedings, making the track almost claustrophobic and very intense.


It is true that Phonem has taken a darker route in this release, attempting to relay message through the way that his beats and melodies are constructed. He doesn’t veer widely from his proven formula of tracks consisting of little else than expertly constructed beats and simple melodic lines that counterpoint each other, but overall it does not end up being as satisfying as his previous release, Hydroelectric. This may be traced to the fact that Perkins was attempting too hard to involve meaning in the way that he constructed his songs, not allowing for anything other than claustrophobic and melancholic sounds to emerge. The magic of Hydroelectric lay in the multitude of feelings evoked by each song. Instead, by the nature of the liner notes and song titles, the songs dictate that the feelings that the listener is supposed to have, which seems almost antithetical to making a classic record, but allows for a solid one.


Reviewed by: Todd Burns
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01
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