hen someone uses “academic” as a pejorative in terms of music, they generally mean the piece in question is more interesting to think about than to listen to. But the term is widely misapplied—what generally gets called academic isn't that interesting to think about either. “High concept” would be better, as once you've heard “indie ADDers release record with Grandma!” or “techno record made entirely using noises generated during sex!” (or whatever) you generally don't need to dig any further aurally or conceptually.
Still's long in the making (he mostly keeps busy as the DJ for Dälek) debut Remains avoids high concept, but you can picture someone trying to pitch it that way. “It's a turntable album, see, but it never sounds even remotely like what people think of when they think of turntables! Hell, it doesn't even really sound like someone like Philip Jeck!” The liner notes are careful to point out that “the ONLY instrument played on Remains are Technics 1200 Mk2 Turntables and a lot of delay pedals” and his label calls it dark ambient, but as the grinding, squealing “Once Confronted” lurches to life noise seems like a more obvious touchstone. Like pretty much all good noise music it's confusing and a little off-putting on first listen and still viscerally thrilling even after a few spins.
The three tracks that follow are densely hallucinogenic in their squalling repetition and thick slabs of messy sound, half an hour of bracing, intense clamor that is about as far from DJ Shadow or Kid Koala as you can get. “Once Confronted” remains the most extreme thing here, but its companions are at least as gripping. “A Dream You Were Alive” picks up in its second half with looped bells and chimes that are just as cacophonous as the less identifiable sounds elsewhere, and “Atrophy”'s stuttering gulps mark the only sound here I might have guessed come from a turntable.
The brief “Futility” and a live performance of “Blindness” end the album on a much softer and sadder note, grainy black-and-white romance movie soundtracks warped and stretched by time. They're a marked contrast to the bulk of Remains but equally compelling, a pleasant and necessary coda to the astringent howl and scrape of “A Dream You Were Alive” and “Need.” The record might feel brief if not for the sheer substantiality of the sounds Still can generate with his Technics; as it is, any longer and you might go from stimulated to overwhelmed, or even bored.
Accompanying the music is a Super8 film by Todd Boebel, filmed in New York, Myanmar, and Angkor Wat. The temple, country, and city scenes in Myanmar and Angkor Wat are interesting enough if a little bit too much what you might expect, but the real interest is in the three minutes filmed in New York. Footage of ticker tape and streamers in mid-air is slowed down, reversed and re-looped until the air is full of paper ghosts writhing in nothing, to the tune of “Blindness.” It's both beautiful and eerie, and when the frame abruptly goes white as the film runs out it's strangely terrifying. That segment ends with held shots of the streamers; trapped in the hot lens of the projector the individual frames begin to warp and bubble, just as the sounds Still has stretched out and delayed on his operating table have. The process he uses is intermittently interesting, but thankfully the sound is always gripping.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2005-10-31