Strategy
Future Rock
2007
A-



balearic is a trendy word to throw around at the moment, often with scant regard for its strict etymology in relation to music; it currently seems to mean anything vaguely stoned and superficially appealing to people who’ve stopped actually going out to dance. I’ve seen it applied to Strategy, with some sense; the analogue ambience that typifies Future Rock has a sophisticated, if esoteric, post-dance flavor that definitely veers towards beatific.

Some context: Strategy is the solo project of Portland native Paul Dickow, who cut his teeth in various middling postrock / electronica groups in the area, including Nudge and Fontanelle. Future Rock follows two other full-lengths and a handful of singles released on a variety of tiny local labels you’ve probably never heard of. Because Future Rock is Strategy’s second release on Kranky, you can call it postrock without feeling presumptuous or wrong-headed, because that’s kind of what it is, in a refracted way.

Essentially Strategy’s remit is house / disco dub as heard through a wall from an AM radio with warped speaker cones; which is to say that it’s some of the most richly-textured but indistinct music I’ve come across in an age, alive and spacious with layered, corrupted detail. There’s a certain vatic presence in common with label mates Stars of the Lid, but far more propulsion and impact. Think Can if they were remixed by Luomo from behind the hum of a vacuum-cleaner, perhaps.

The opening “Can’t Hold Back” starts fractured life with tiny scratches of third-hand disco guitar licks and warm bass riddles which coalesce to establish a deep and eager groove after a minute or two, an anti-gravity, vocodered voice drifting above oscillating, bare-palm percussion. It carries on in this vein for another four perfect minutes, dropping in organs, some very distant trumpets, and layer upon layer of filtersweep, factory vent and found sound.

Approximately half of Future Rock is genuine ‘dance’ music, in that you could drop it in a club and not upset anyone (it would have to be a very particular kind of club, mind you); the rest delves headfirst into hesitatingly beautiful shoegaze shimmer and vamp, all constructed atop delicious bass grooves. Through serious headphones it feels like dreaming while submersed in warm, sun-kissed waters. Possibly.

During “Stops Spinning” someone opines “everybody in the room / stop spinning / everybody on the dancefloor / stop spinning” with a vagueness that could belie aged, wistful reminiscence or else simply being so out of it that might puke or faint at any moment. “Windswept” is more soundscape than dubplate; “Phantom Powered” is funky, dissolving hip-hop; the jazzy shoegaze fog of “Red Screen” builds to a spiralling, ecstatic plateau somewhere far above its vast plains of synth.

The key to Future Rock is that it’s not all about appearances; beneath the delicious aesthetic, there’s a sense of humanity and, dare I say it, soul. Maybe it’s in the occasional, subliminal pop hooks and the analogue-through-digital tone, but where a lot of electronic music can seem distant and cold, Strategy is warm, accessible, moreish, and compelling. One of the best records I’ve heard this year.



Reviewed by: Nick Southall
Reviewed on: 2007-08-02
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