The Monstrous Surplus
f late, the point at which electronica meets dreamy-whirly-bliss-drone has been a relatively popular destination. We've already heard Ulrich Schnauss move towards such territory, and Airiel's oceanic frolics (also featuring Schnauss, less-than-coincidentally) also cast a watery nod. Let's have no talk of revivals though—especially if it's going to result in a dreadful term like "nu-gaze." The genre probably not known to millions of French people as Regarder Les Chaussures is in consistently rude health; it just depends whether you can be bothered to look for it.
What's interesting, however, is that the electronic trappings pioneered by Seefeel and Slowdive's Pygmalion appear to have achieved temporary domination. Maybe it's the ease with which modern technology allows an artist to whip up a digital approximation of Kevin Shields' finest. Perhaps just an accidental fad. Whatever the case, the recent albums from Swirlyville have exhibited a glossier sheen—either as an unavoidable result of contemporary production, or by careful design. Also of note has been a drift away from the sort of floating, out-of-body numbers which used to trippily wander on for five minutes, evoking love and loss in five dimensions. The prevailing trend is towards a more abrasive approach (relative to the genre, of course), where "quiet ones" are now the tracks on which sharper-edged tones have been faded down a bit. Throwing a few blurs into focus, without losing the form.
Four albums in, Pluramon (special musical code-name for Marcus Schmickler and a smattering of guests) are both contributing admirably to, and thumbing their noses at, the current mood. Yes, there's a return to drowsier times, but it comes attached to the precision of modernity. It's not easy to describe how songs characterized by ambiguous haze can still feel influenced by automation, but it's a little like comparing an ostensibly free-flowing wind with machine-generated waves. Whereas the wind at least appears to contain the potential to billow and roar, whoosh and whistle, the waves are ultimately predictable. Beautiful and beguiling, certainly, but the result of set patterns, calculation and planning.
In the vocal arena, tradition has been maintained. Aside from the oddly Steve Kilbey-esque cameo from Schmickler himself, it took these ears a fair while to realize that there were actually three separate female singers on the record. The voices aren't buried beyond hope of rescue, they simply seem to have been fed through production trickery to make each as breathy as Julee "Twin Peaks" Cruise. The illusion holds, until Jutta Koether distinguishes herself with clipped delivery on the spoken-word "Fresh Aufhebung"—whose ominous talk of "control by elusive power" has all the atmosphere of a city-wide broadcast in a dark future, via reference to Hegelian philosophy.
Elsewhere, the lyrical turns aren't so densely enigmatic, which is something of a shame. It's also of slight concern that, "Aufhebung" aside, the exceptional treatment of "If The Kids Are United" (spaced-out socialist groove mix) grabs most attention. Many of the tracks here aim to create a mood rather than leave a hummable melody, but—pleasant though they are—a few struggle to leave a distinct impression. In Pluramon's aural amalgamation, however, there's still much to engage with. Beats, washes, and samples have each been alchemically treated, creating an absorbing palette of heavily disguised origins. The somewhat clinical way this has been achieved may not be to everyone's taste, but The Monstrous Surplus marks another polished release in a good year for the 'gazers.