orwegian label Rune Grammofon has pioneered a strange conflation of jazz and electronica alongside a loose raggle-taggle of like-minded artists such as Biosphere and Jaga Jazzist. And Thomas Strønen just might be the most potent peddler of these jazztronix. With his Food project, a collaboration with saxophonist Iain Bellamy, he baffled and beguiled in equal measure. Their Last Supper LP leapt from sonic jungles of buzzing cybernetic insects to tendrils of haunting slow burning saxophone fumes, and icy crystal clear bells—like dipping a toe in a freezing fjord—to gorgeous intimacy and warmth. Here, helming the Pohlitz project alone, Strønen seeks solace in tunnels of echoic vibraphone, dubbed out to infinity—sometimes entrancing, sometimes threatening to engulf and extinguish all light.
The opener “Heterogeneous Substances” taps lightly and insistently on the brainpan, evoking shards of light strobed and sinister, seemingly benign one minute, deadly the next. As the title suggests, the tripped out vibraphones shift and metamorphose alarmingly. It’s also a clue to what really makes Strønen tick: the shifting and fluid identity of his music.
This is not conventional territory, more like a photo negative vision of the world—the same yet imperceptibly skewed, as the producer twists simple components into sonics that were never intended above or below. But then he finds the way out of the disorientating maelstrom, into “Ingenious Pursuits,” a warm amniotic rumble of deep bass thrums, clanks and subdued pots n’ pans percussion. Bjork’s “Headphones” is evoked—and indeed, headphones is where this record really works its magic.
Other influences can be discerned—the minimal compositions of Steve Reich and Michael Nyman haunt proceedings, but also the strange percussive rhythms and clanging gongs of Gamelan. Yet overall there’s a playfulness at work which makes the listening experience less po-faced and more open-mouthed.
This is not an album for parties, make no mistake, but neither is it impenetrable. In fact, it is difficult not to be mesmerised by the sheer difference and remote, yet warm atmosphere Strønen creates. The key is his focus on the dichotomies in the music—the disparate threads of jazz and electronics, light and dark, icy and temperate woven together to create something that really doesn’t sound like anything else, even his Rune Grammofon label mates. A dispatch from far within the void.
Reviewed by: Ben Murphy
Reviewed on: 2006-04-12