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World Standard & Wechsel Garland - The Isle

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Artist: World Standard & Wechsel Garland

Album: The Isle

Label: Staubgold

Review date: Sep. 1, 2004

"In the year 2001 two different Discoverer / started a long voyage. The Quest for the Isle had begun. / This mysterious existence had only been delivered / by oral tradition. / What you hold in hands right now is a documentation of this travel. The Voyage to the Isle."

With this cursive inscription on the back of the digipack CD case, Wechsel Garland and World Standard are poised to present a concept album, close in musical spirit to Millennium's breezy Begin (without the radical counterculture politics), by way of atmospheric tangents fitting for an Eno/Budd collaboration. If anyone could pull it off, it would be World Standard, the working name for composer Sohichiro Suzuki, one of the most interesting musicians working in Japan today. Melt-Banana and the Boredoms introduced parody pastiche to the U.S., and World Standard works in similar idioms, but instead presenting them in cut-up thrash, he imbues his music with more cinematic resonance, focusing on patience and visual evocation. This is notably restrained music. World Standard makes albums that are almost specifically geared for extended car commercials - pastoral, plain, and unassuming, yet endowed with the very distinct wit of functional craftsmanship in art, visible in a long lineage from Joseph Beuys through Stereolab. On The Isle, Suzuki teams with Wechsel Garland to present another block of motion picture sound, distilled from the cultural signifiers of island life and sea travel.

On The Isle, marimbas, pianos, sweet synthesizers, strings and softly picked guitars make for a significantly colorful experience. While the most immediate reference point for World Standard might be Haroumi Hosono’s various projects, ranging from Bon Voyage through his work with Yellow Magic Orchestra, his masterpiece Cochin Moon, and even, perhaps, his production work on Interior’s Windham Hill-label release. As Hosono has collaborated with World Standard to great success in the past, this may come as no surprise. Yet World Standard’s music has often taken a distinctly organic approach to what is, ostensibly, cartoonish exaggeration. Just as YMO painted a picture of a bizarre, synthetic leisure world on their first album, World Standard has branched out, attempting to evoke countryside landscapes, and now, on The Isle, a dusky tropical haven, replete with a well-conceived mythology of ships, whales, harbors, and starry nights far away from the rest of the world.

Yet, Wechsel Garland - another pseudonym, this time for Jorg Follert - has brought something very new to the mix, an electronic palette previously unnecessary to WS. He seems to enter on the second track, which uses source material from the opener to create a new rhythm and introduce a more somber tone. In some ways, this is a very fitting departure for WS: contemporary, though perhaps no longer progressive, glitch electronics. Just as YMO has reunited in the form of Sketch Show to fulfill a roughly similar objective, World & Wechsel attempt to breathe new life into familiar ideas. Electronic instruments are a shoe-in for this sort of work. A synthesizer is meant either to sound like an instrument that doesn't exist, or sound like an instrument that it can't possibly sound like. Either way, the synthesizer gives a distorted, animated view of the picture, it corrupts the natural harmonics of sound and turns it into something manmade, and at its best, fascinatingly grotesque. The digital manipulation on The Isle is, in many ways, a similar approach, dealing with all sounds, rather than specifically instrumental color. Perhaps rather than “breathing new life into familiar ideas”, World Standard is aiming to use ultimately dead sounds to illustrate familiar ideas.

Besides running through an inventory of DSP effects, Garland wears several other hats in this collaboration. Most notably, he sings on what, for lack of a better word, could be called the single. "The Harbour" is the polarizing moment of the album, it could be construed as precisely what is wrong with The Isle or exactly what works about it. The German lyrics to "The Harbour," much like the digital processing, can come across as decidedly distracting.

Many times over the 40-minute suite of an album, it feels like WS & WG are losing sight of the picture they're hoping to paint. The electronics, at their worst, are matter-of-factly presented, ornamental rather than necessary or evocative. At their best, they're hardly noticeable, a low-pass filter over a piano, a quick cut to a reverb-laden string quartet, a subtle field recording in the background. The immediately identifiable Cologne sounds, however, as aesthetically pleasing as they may be, seem to serve no purpose to The Isle's concept. Similarly, while it's entertaining and novel to have Garland singing on "The Harbour," the Teutonic dialect doesn't seem to click with the intended island imagery.

On the other hand, this could be construed as subversive. Perhaps the fact that so many sounds feel decidedly inappropriate lends the album a misguided lethargy; it challenges its own aims, it goes out of its way to reach a state of awkwardness. Whereas YMO’s use the awkwardness of the electronic sounds to lend their music a sort of overarching sarcasm, this doesn't necessarily seem to be the case with The Isle. More likely, Garland is stretching, trying to make his musical language fit with the acoustic subtleties of World Standard. Perhaps very simply, sometimes he fails. Yet, on standout tracks like "The Whale," "A Found Chart," "After All," "Atoll," and more than any other, on the title track, "The Isle," a very perfect balance is met.

By Matt Wellins

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