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Re: - Alms

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Artist: Re:

Album: Alms

Label: Constellation

Review date: Oct. 12, 2004

Aden Evens and Ian Ilavsky don't want their music to be pigeonholed as ambient. Indeed, boundary-blurring is what made Re:'s first album, Mnants, such a success. Large sections of that disc shimmered, pulsed, throbbed and droned in a way that was too mellow to be mistaken for Throbbing Gristle and too metallic and stereotypically industrial to be construed as ambient. It's IDM rhythms, mechanic tonal references and wide pitch spectrum invoked equally several generations of electro-acoustic experiments; when conventional instruments were used, they were manipulated in such a way that novel textures or subtle sound combinations emerged, keeping even the simplest material interesting and eventful.

Alms fails from the start, not because the sound pallet is any less broad or the textures any less complex. The main problem is a blatant use of stereotype throughout the disc in terms of both procedure and sound source. The layers of sound, so subtly interwoven on Mnants, are now too clear, the sonic lines too precisely drawn. "Gollem" and "Orientalism as a Humanism" suffer from overuse of the "decay" archetype – buzz, scrape, clatter and something sounding like radio static, all atonal, of course. When a quasi-techno beat emerges, it feels oddly out of place, even pedestrian. "Radio Free Ramadi" suffers the same fate, following a very similar formula. Autechre, citing one example, manufactures much more convincing decay and sterility, not to mention much more intricate rhythmic activity. At the other extreme, "On Golden Pond" relies too heavily on the serial presentation, with hardly any manipulation, of samples – vocal and otherwise – in the spirit of Berio or mid '60s Stockhausen, but without the compositional finesse.

The album does have beautiful moments – the high-frequency "Lasers, Tracers,Radar Drones" chief among them; a wonderfully metallic exploration of the highest registers of human hearing and beyond, Merzbow for dogs and whales. Again, however, a piano, completely "dry," presents an unwelcome distraction, and while it may represent humanity amidst the rubble of technology, it comes off as banality amidst one of this project's rare moments of genius. Humanity, in all its technocratic triumph and failure, is much more in evidence on Mnants, where drones and squeaks create a pitch and soundscape symbiosis without drawing undue attention to either component.

By Marc Medwin

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