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Codec Scovill - Clinical Imperfections

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Artist: Codec Scovill

Album: Clinical Imperfections

Label: Nonresponse

Review date: Jul. 18, 2002

Somewhere, as I write this, the three members of Codec Scovill are laughing. The jacket of their new album, Clinical Imperfections, features only stark black and white cover art; the titles of their wordless songs, like "Tapco 4400A" and "50 Ohm Beiden," reveal little more than a preoccupation with technology; their bio on their label's website consists only of five brief sentences. Nothing about Codec Scovill facilitates easy writing.

Similarly, their music stares at me bleakly: its throbbing drones don't sound warm enough to reveal much more than a poker face. "Alpine" is the only track here that's stylistically similar to Pan Sonic-- Codec Scovill usually favors cloud-like, uninterrupted sustains over Pan Sonic's clanging, hanging-in-the-air percussion sounds. But the two groups affect the listener in a similar way, evoking the solitude and racing-heart fear one might feel in a dark, empty factory.

That Codec Scovill's music manages to be so evocative despite its self-imposed limitations is no small feat: most of these songs were, amazingly, mostly improvised and recorded to four-track. Evidence of the lo-fi production does seep in occasionally-- the pitches of the drones sometimes waver a bit, and "Stutthof" opens with a snap of distortion so messy that the listener can almost see the levels peaking.

Otherwise, though, few seams show: the structures of all the tracks are logical, and Codec Scovill's sense of pacing is outstanding-- each track moves just slowly enough to make the listener's skin crawl. If this was improvised, Codec Scovill's three musicians must either be experienced improvisers, or they must have improvised around strict, pre-written forms. And despite the archaic equipment (seriously, who records on a four-track anymore?), most of these drones are as crisp and forbidding as Pan Sonic's A or Main's Firmament II. The majority of them hover around small, minor key collections of pitches that slide around each other, accompanied by ghostly echoes, static and sparse, ominous rumbles. The overall mood is so solitary and dark that the barely-there major chords at the end of "Tandem Sling" feel like a burst of sunshine after an entire winter in Greenland. Nothing else here is especially heartwarming, or even particularly human-sounding, but if you're looking to indulge your paranoid side, Clinical Imperfections is tough to beat.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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