odern art is a tricky subject to analyze. The effects of irony and sarcasm are everywhere. If you take something too seriously, you're liable to look the fool. If you take something too lightly, as though it has no meaning at all, you're also liable to be embarrassed by elements that can be construed in different ways. It is the sign of the times, then, for most critics of different art forms to be bland and forgiving. "He/she/ has potential," "He/she revels in mediocrity because it is an artistic statement," or, even worse, "It wasn't really great, but it wasn't bad either." The unwillingness of the modern critic to take a stand one way or the other is one that plagues certain publications. This reviewer is extremely guilty of this. It would be hard to regard exactly what I think of as a classic album, anymore considering how many albums I have regarded as good in the past year. It comes with the fear of being wrong, perhaps. The fear of overlooking the subject in the time that is taken to review it, in case someone will look over the critique and point out elements of the work that completely skewer the points made. As said, modern art is a tricky subject to analyze with any accuracy when the means and the ends are not as straightforward as they used to be.
It is with a degree of trepidation, then, that I proclaim Otto von Schirach's newest album, Escalo Frio an utter failure. Trepidation exists because it is certainly conceivable that Schirach's entire point was to create a mediocre record. I could easily see Schirach saying to himself, while making make record, "I wonder if I can overload each song with effects, so much so that it is a parody of other electronic artists that do the same." I'm going to take a chance, however, and say that this was not the case. Schirach was probably not thinking that by creating a caricature of all that is wrong with IDM he would be creating a timeless piece of art that would make him a platinum artist. It does beg the question, however, what was Schirach thinking? A capitalization on all of the music listeners that buy up every release from the Schematic label on name alone? Or perhaps he thought that the manipulation of hip hop beats with DSP software was inventive and hasn't been used before. Regardless of his thought process while making the disc, Schirach has failed in creating a work that will hold up for an extended period of time or will signal the dawning of a new original movement within IDM.
And IDM it is. Schirach has put forth an effort that is inherently rooted in the Miami bass tradition, but distorted by the digital effects that permeate each song. The subversion involved in the process is what makes the album of interest, of course, but this skewering is done in such a dull way that it doesn't sound exciting or original. For the most part, the song structures contained on this album follow a pattern of taking a short melody- looping it- and then taking a hip hop beat and adding effects on to it, leaving it still recognizable as hip hop. Perhaps this recognition of the genre that it is gently destroying, is Schirach's failing point. In leaving the recognizable traces of hip hop intact- the beat structure, the Mcing on some tracks- Schirach has created a patently mediocre record, unable to innovate in either direction because he is straddling the fence so tightly. In presenting a collection of tracks that mix software patches and hip hop beats, Schirach is following the same path that Scott Herren has forged with his Prefuse73 moniker. Unfortunately for Schirach comes off as Swizz Beatz to Herren's Timbaland. Swizz Beatz may get the same notoriety as Timbaland in the mainstream, but everyone knows who is better. Schirach may get the same notoriety in IDM list posts, but everyone knows that he can't light a candle to Herren. It is the blandness that might appeal to the middle of the road clique that Schirach creates, featuring guest spots by critical darlings Matmos. It is this blandness that is keeping American producers from creating the masterpieces that the Europeans have been creating for years, Herren aside. It's obvious that Schirach has potential, it's unfortunate that he is using it in such a manner. Here's to hoping that his first two albums are all part of his artistic growth and he will soon create something of worth that will stand the test of time.