The One AM Radio
A Name Writ in Water
he nascent folktronica has had its share of electronic composers come to the fore, enlisting the use of acoustic instruments for their source material. Four Tet, Ogurusu Norihide and Greg Davis, specifically, approach composition in a way unlike most pop composers. Armed with their laptops and digital processing, the songwriting takes a backseat to structural experiments and the very purposeful use of repetition to achieve a certain effect. But, in the end, if you’re not attuned to it, it’s quite boring.
Luckily, as most neologisms work these days, the word folktronica has two words comprising it. Hrishikesh Hirway comes from the first half, his debut album The Hum of the Electric Air being a primarily one man, one guitar, one orchestral arrangement, one stool affair. But here on his second album Hirway embraces subtle amounts of electronic accoutrement to dazzling effect throughout.
Opener “What You Gave Away” sets the tone immediately, employing a drum machine amid hazy guitar lines and Hirway’s plaintive vocals. Joe Grimm’s trumpet fills out the piece near the end, as Hirway’s vocals are tastefully chopped up into small phonemes of sound. These subtle (and, more importantly, tasteful) touches are thrown in throughout the album, elevating the proceedings past simple folk.
The third track, “Drowsy Haze”, prominently introduces the other main member of the group: Jane Yakowitz, a violin player. Here she stately drones her instrument, producing a bed for Hirway to pluck his guitar over. Above this, the two gently sing together, further adding to the precious quality of the track. It’s not exactly a highlight of the album, but it illustrates an important point about it as a whole: the preciousness factor.
In adopting the electronic elements for this release, Hirway has seemed to have missed one thing in the process: the tension or conflict available between acoustic and electronic. For the most part, the two co-exist rather peacefully, rarely paying any mind to one another. The songs here are always pleasant, but infrequently much more.
This isn’t a major problem in recommending the release to, say, a friend in looking for something for a lazy Sunday afternoon. But, if you’re looking for something to sink your teeth into, you can do much better on the other side of the folktronica spectrum.