he popular myth of the American IDM underground that began to assert itself in the middle of the 90s was that it was populated by geeky bespectacled white boys that had a greater familiarity with the intricacies of their latest piece of music software than they did with the opposite sex. Thrusting itself into the mix and attempting to destroy these myths, the Tigerbeat6 crew took IDM by the horns and shook the genre from the inside, confounding expectations and refusing to conform to what IDM had become. With the clamor finally dying down and the dust settling over the battleground that was once a fertile genre, the popular myth trudges on—a cliché that occurs because it’s, in parts, extremely true.
One of the bright lights in the American arm of the genre, producing melodic IDM that rivaled some of the best releases that early CCO or Morr Music had to offer was Richard Bailey, aka Proem. Releasing the renowned Burn Plate, No. 1 on the Orchard label, Bailey quickly made a name for himself amid the wreckage of what had been a quietly burgeoning American scene. His simple melodies, girded by click-hop beats won over many fans thirsting for the sedate weaving melodies of Arovane and the glitched beats of Phonem.
On this, his fourth long player, Proem mines the same sort of territory that garnered his initial acclaim, continuing his interest in complex interlocking melodic themes. “little_a” serves as the first marker that Bailey’s technique has matured and blossomed on this release. A pounding beat begins the song, foreshadowing the possible structure where the melody will emerge. Subverting such a simplistic song form, however, Bailey abandons portions of the rhythm as the melody makes its grand entrance, instead relying on a variation. The original drum pattern does finally reappear, as a satisfying conclusion to the song, but not after the rotating melody (think Boards of Canada’s “Rue The Whirl”) is joined by another melody, a harmonic accompaniment and a bridge. This sort of development in an IDM composer is sadly not seen often enough, and serves as a welcome surprise, vaulting this easily ahead of legions of imitators.
The other major difference between this and the majority of melodic IDM is the inclusion of vocals. “When Frailty Fails”’s vocals are heard via what appears to be a vocoder, undercutting the relative timid evocation of the slowly developing bulbous melodies within the composition. The song is typical, structured by clicking drum patterns that shift and congeal in and among the established pattern yielded by the melodies structure, but the vocals tell a far darker story: “When your empty head caves in / You can tear off my arms and take me”. The narrative is a short one, featuring only seven lines outside of the ones quoted here. It is a complex one, however, never making clear the relationship between narrator and subject or why they might be fighting. Unable to convincingly make music that expresses his rage, these lyrical conceits add an interesting dimension to Bailey’s work, revealing that underneath the hatred lying beneath the surface.
The relative severity of the vocalizations found on the disc, while supporting the Socially Inept moniker, do tend to detract from the beauty of the compositions that contain and surround them. Overall, they work against themselves, not providing the contrast that they might have done otherwise, but instead creating a troubling picture of an artist that is holding on to the tropes of the familiar IDM musician: a frustrated, socially inept man who sublimates his aggression within seemingly fanciful compositions. It’s a familiar tactic for an artist, but it simply doesn’t work in this context.
Additionally, at sixty minutes, the album comes off as less of a unified presentation of ideas and more as tracks that Bailey has been working on since the last LP was released. Granted, the tracks are, for the most part, solid, but pruning would have been advisable.
Despite these slight criticisms, Proem’s newest material excites for the present and bodes well for the future. If this sort of development can continue and his ineptness can perhaps be held in check, it would follow that Proem should be able to record something that would be regarded as highly as Arovane’s Atol Scrap in the coming years. Whether he has the ability to branch out and record something as shocking and brilliant as Tides, however, remains to be seen.