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Jane - Berserker

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Artist: Jane

Album: Berserker

Label: Paw Tracks

Review date: May. 4, 2005

United by both an affinity for dance music and mutual employment courtesy of New York City record shop Other Music, Jane is Scott Mou and Noah Lennox (a.k.a. Panda Bear). Based solely on the latter half of their membership, it would be tempting to view Berserker, their first full-length (which brings together some previously released, limited edition material) through the filter of the Animal Collective. But relegating the duo and their fine debut as a mere footnote in the ever-expanding world of the Collective is rather unfair. What Mou and Lennox cook up over the four songs and nearly sixty minutes sidles up equally to dance and pop, to ambient longing and melodic familiarity, existing in its own right, outside of that group's lengthy shadow.

Berserker is a tough record to peg. Adorned with cover drawings that feature a ghastly shadow bludgeoning a hapless soul and a few drawings that take obvious inspiration from the Grateful Dead, aesthetics alone indicate something rather nebulous and esoteric. By and large, the sounds contained herein live up to that expectation - were it not for the picture of the duo and the accompanying credits, I'd be more than inclined to credit this to one individual, so singular is its voice.

The album opens with the glorious hum of the title track, and for all of the drug-addledness and/or malevolence hinted at by the artwork, its spends its six minutes exploring a glorious din of hazy electronics, wordless vocals, and near melodicism that offers more in its hints than some artists manage to conjure with overloaded tracks. "AGG Report" ushers in a woozy, low-key beat that droops along with keyboard drones that pull a nifty suspended-time trick - these 12 minutes cascade by in a blink. "Slipping Away" starts out seasick, with queasy, crackling vinyl loops spinning away until the spare beat pulses by, all the while leaving Lennox to murmur off in the distance. The closing "Swan" is more psychedelic than anything, spending the balance of the album exploring a sea of shifting drones and radar blips of undetermined origin.

Ultimately, the proceedings here can wear somewhat thin over the course of an hour, evidencing a duo that is still working out the kinks in their sound and mapping the territory they've only begun to explore. Nevertheless, Berserker remains a pretty rewarding listen, a nice little nod that works as a surprisingly great soundtrack for those late hours of the early morning. Although the two profess that their immediate inspiration comes from dance music, one might be a little hard pressed to imagine this stuff getting spun on the 4/4 floor.

While bits and pieces here and there could easily come from the same pool as the likes of, say, Birchville Cat Motel or the Keith Fullerton Whitman/Greg Davis axis, there's more of a rhythmic purpose, explicitly stated or not. The most immediate comparison I can think of is the more ambient work of Arthur Russell. The duo haven't quite figured out how to scale the intense emotional depths that makes Russell's work such a breathtaking listen, but they have gone a ways towards exploring where the inspiration of dance music can take you once the beat has faded into the night.

By Michael Crumsho

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