We’ll All Go Riding on a Rainbow
f there needs to be any more proof for the idea of the collective unconscious, take example 492: in the late 90s, varying sets of producers decided to explore the possibilities of music slowed down to a snail’s pace. In America, the most notable version of this phenomena gained widespread prominence through the efforts of DJ Screw and the genre of Hip-Hop. In the avant-garde electronic community, the most successful example has been something wildly different from the emasculatory effects of what has become known as Screwed music. It’s ballroom standards from the early twentieth century, (de)constructed by the enigmatic V/VM artist The Caretaker.
At nearly fifty-two minutes, the third album from The Caretaker falls prey to the problem of most screwed music: if you’re not on drugs, it’s far too long to listen to without becoming depressed or saddened by the deadening throb of the molasses pulse of the music. Luckily, there are 16 tracks to enjoy here, keeping the pace moving relatively quickly. Unfortunately, if you don’t like the idea of lumbering echo-laden ballroom tracks, then there may not be much to keep you interested.
“The Weeping Dancefloor” is a case in point. It’s a nearly six-minute epic jaunt, featuring a fair amount of horns, room ambience and record crackle. The song is propelled by one primary loop that changes little throughout the duration of the piece and gets rather interesting due to the colorful harmonics that emerge at the end of each loop when the instruments sustain an elongated note for a short time together. This is where the song gets wavery and the concept comes to fruition. Conflicting and merging noises fight with one another in the aural field, producing a fascinating sound that would not have been uncovered otherwise.
All of the tracks do not follow this simple pattern, however. “Contemplation” is a delicate ambient piece, evoking the underwater murkiness of Loscil. Further pushing this connection, the main melodic element in the song sounds similar to sonar, pulsing through the song’s space. It ends up being one of the most effecting pieces here, sounding like little else that comes before it or after.
For critics of The Caretaker, it might be easy to dismiss the act of slowing down and effecting old recordings of songs that already exist. But what’s missed in this dismissal is the fact that these songs never existed in this format (The Caretaker tends to take certain bits and graft them together) and that he is uncovering portions of these songs that would never be heard otherwise. By elucidating the connection between ambient music and these easy listening ballroom classics, The Caretaker has uncovered a new musical language that can and should be celebrated as something that is equally exciting as it is eerily beautiful.