Catch That Totem!
ummaging through the truckloads of year-end and best-of-2005 lists, one would come to the conclusion that electronic music consists largely of dance. Call the trend overcompensation for the slights on dance music dished out by IDM-craving critics circa 1999. Unfortunately, in the rush to champion house (in all its guises), the critical community has left earlier darlings behind. “Abstract” or “experimental” electronic music—a blanket term denoting anything without beats that doesn’t lapse into ambient—has suffered from populist backlash. Dance music is for your ass, and everyone can dig that, but groups on the Autechre-Fennesz axis seem suspiciously academic and exclusive. In 2005’s climate, even an album as stellar as Alog’s Miniatures slipped under the radar.
For those who decry the lack of playfulness and humanity in electronic music, Catch that Totem! will delight. The duo of Espen Sommer Heide and Dag-Are Heiden practically frolic through this odds and ends collection, leaping over genre fences in their joy. The eclecticism of their music does not stem from head-scratching, overcooked concepts, but from a hyperactive hatred of confinement.
Since the shredded vocal confetti and stiffly earnest guitar of “Just Recording,”—the duo’s first track—Alog have carved a career path full of hairpin turns, leaf-covered spike pits, and gravity-defying loops. “Song Sung Inward” dredges the same soulful noise murk that produced the Minatures’ standout “Severe Punishment and Lasting Bliss.” But bounce ahead a track and the duo has scrubbed off the static, opting instead for spic-n-spac jittery beats and mewing vocals. No sooner has this faded than the gawky, instrumental hip-hop number “Theme from Toads” shudders and shakes. The album then stumbles into “Something Like the Islands of Memory” a track that in title and sound mimics Mum so well that one suspects a parody.
Such a farce would not be beyond Alog. Consider “Hej, vart blev det av DAT’en, Kim?” The track opens with a phone message from Kim Hiorthøy, whose DAT tape containing a track from his album Hei—destined for remix—has gone missing in the mail. Rather than request another, Alog simply fast forwards through the whole album with the record button down and slapped on the answering machine vocals. The result is a mess, albeit an unpredictable one studded with surprising highs.
“Hej” is an anomaly for the group. The remaining of the album displays a careful and loving—if somewhat unsteady—hand, faltering only when the group falls too in love with looped beats and monotone drones. However every track on Catch That Totem! is an anomaly, as is every album in the Alog catalog. Should the critical pendulum swing back in Alog’s direction, look for them to be named Crown Princes of the Internet.
Reviewed by: Bryan Berge
Reviewed on: 2006-01-10