The North Valley Subconscious Orchestra
The Right Kind of Nothing
t’s been a banner year for the folks over at Ghostly International. Alongside a slew of 12” singles, breakthrough releases from Bodycode and Dabrye, and the second volume of their Idol Tryouts compilation, Ghostly has been exploring the possibilities of digital music distribution, breaking ground with its Ghostly Digital project. Originally focusing on teaser EPs and exclusive content, Ghostly Digital has recently released its inaugural full-length album: The North Valley Subconscious Orchestra’s The Right Kind of Nothing. A collaboration between Christopher Willits—of Flössin and 12k fame—and Brad Laner, who is better known for his solo work as Electric Company and as a member of Medicine, The Right Kind of Nothing is a curious album that sees both artists investigating new sonic territory and stretching their boundaries, to mixed results.
“Pad Prik King” opens the album with a burst of bombastic drone and drum clatter, quickly transitioning into the early highlight “Neutral Bouyancy.” The song is of a piece with much of Willits’ more recent work, like the wonderful “Colours Shifting” from Idol Tryouts Vol. 2, showcasing processed vocals and a gently sun-kissed ambience anchored by sub-aquatic bass tones. A slightly rough outer-edge prevents the track from lulling the listener into a sense of false security, and the album quickly turns into noisier terrain with “Infantile Jargoning” which uses Krautrock as its base and, to its credit, actually manages to keep up with the classics. A driving rhythm persists through the mix as squalls of guitar feedback and interwoven vocal harmonies threaten to overtake the track. “Shimokitazawa Face,” which appears later in the album, is another gem mining the same aesthetic. Unfortunately, the rest of the album fails to live up to the promise of these tracks, languishing in noble—but ultimately abrasive—exercises in harmonic drone and noise.
Despite The Right Kind of Nothing’s billing as an exclusively mp3 release, it fails to break the conventions of the standard album. It maintains the rather average running time of forty-two minutes, and none of its fourteen tracks are allowed to sprawl beyond a five-minute length. In fact, nearly half of the tracks on this release are cut off at about the two-minute mark. As a result, its weakest moments can come across sounding like half-baked guitar experiments that never really coalesce. “Hotel Margarine,” “Water Table Manners,” and “Otitis” are all guilty of such charges. The longest clocks in at a mere 2:01, and none of them show any sort of development over the course of their abbreviated duration. It doesn’t help that the album’s lo-fi production techniques flatten out and obscure sonic detail. “Napali Passage,” with its cymbal crashes, feedback squalls, and plodding piano, just simply doesn’t hold up to these conditions, nor does the totally out-of-place acoustic excursion “Himnos Suburbanos,” which would’ve been more at home on Greg Davis and Sebastien Roux’s Paquet Surprise.
The Right Kind of Nothing is a collection of noble experiments. Perhaps, if Willits and Laner had put more emphasis on their obvious krautrock inspirations or tempered their tendencies towards noise—some of the material on here gives Merzbow’s exercises in abrasion a run for their money—the album would have been more engaging. As it stands, it’s more interesting from the marketing and distribution side, rather than what should be most important: the music.
Reviewed by: Carl Ritger
Reviewed on: 2006-09-11