Gentle, Amoral Robot Music
Blips and Ifs
ournalistic Integrity Warning: Francis Henville, aka Tachikoma-Kun, writes for Stylus. I’ve never met the man, although he lives in the same province as I do and seems like a nice guy. I have tried to review his first record as I would any other, and honestly I have not been tempted to change the mark or review either way due to his Stylus connection. But do keep that in mind as you read.
There are two habitual complaints that tend to pop up in my reviews: That a record is too long, and that a record blends together too much (the word “mush” is then usually bandied about). Both faults tend to crop up in all sorts of music, but for whatever reason electronic music has seemed especially prone to them recently. Of course, how long is too long is relative; in the case of Tachikoma-Kun, fifty-one minutes is well within reasonable boundaries. And although with a few exceptions I couldn’t name any of these tracks without reference to the case, I don’t mind.
The reason for both these things is because Henville has crafted one of the better ambient albums I’ve heard in a while. It doesn’t particularly sound like most ambient music I’ve heard, these are definite songs with definite song structures (that are fucked with just enough to remain interesting yet coherent), but I can space out doing something else for long stretches of Gentle, Amoral Robot Music until my mind suddenly seizes on a passage of true beauty and I’m sucked back in for a while.
This doesn’t mean that the album is long stretches of dreariness punctuated by highlights; those moments that arrest my ear have been different every time. I tend to catch both the wonderful opening track “Free And Easy Wandering” (probably the poppiest thing here) and the perfectly pitched cover of “Allergic To Love” (originally by Eric’s Trip) that rounds out the disc. Here Henville has located the uneasiness and, more importantly, creepiness left mostly latent by the original and brought them to the fore.
Most of what’s in between is gentle, and definitely robotic at times (although I’m not too sure about amoral), but it fades in and out of focus. Some tracks are pleasantly melancholy (“Supreme Happiness”, of course), some are glitchy (“The Great And Venerable Teacher”), and some are bouncy and buoyant (“Discussion On Making Things Equal”), but the record flows easily. It’s all tied together by Henville’s sure hand (he plays everything here), but he does make some missteps.
The recurring samples of Japanese dialogue (which sound like they may have come from anime) are a distraction, particularly when they are left to run for a whole forty seconds (the end of the otherwise enjoyable “Autumn Floods”). I don’t speak Japanese myself, but I think if I did they’d be even more distracting. In the same song is an example of Henville’s tendency to use what sounds like a real drum kit (or at least a drum machine attempting to emulate a real kit). It doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the music, and you find yourself wishing he’d chosen more subtle, overtly digital percussion.
So Gentle, Amoral Robot Music mostly fails in the form of diverting attention away from its best attributes. Perversely enough, for once I’d love to see him come out with a second album that is both longer and more seamless, to really settle into exploring the reveries he’s capable of weaving. Until then, Tachikoma-Kun’s debut effort is full of promise, and perfect for lazy days both rainy and sunny.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2004-08-02