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Lithops - Queries

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Artist: Lithops

Album: Queries

Label: Sonig

Review date: May. 30, 2006

Listening to Queries in the context of the rest of producer Jan St. Werner's releases (most notably as one half, then one-third of latter-day Kraftwerk bedfellows Mouse on Mars), is probably more interesting than listening to it at face value. Much of this album was (presumably) worked out at the same time as 1998's Autoditacker, Mouse on Mars' most stunning release. Half of the 12 songs here were released before 1999 was over, and the rest were produced around the same time.

St. Werner isn't interested in hiding the fact that Mouse on Mars and his Lithops project share similar origins. Many of the textures, effects schemes, and sequencing habits spring from the same circuitry as Lithops' more-famous half-brother (for a fast reference point, hear the quick chill-out-room-tinged "Tenson"). But there's also no question that this isn't a record of Mouse on Mars outtakes. The mood is drastically different from that of the rollicking and infectious Autoditacker. Here, St. Werner takes his time in warming up and wastes no time in trying to impress. The slow starter "Kahn," like much of the other material on Queries, is almost completely devoid of a rhythm section. This makes it hard to feel any song-ish progression; attention to harmony is strikingly subtle, and only when abstract texture is completely stripped away as in "Sequenced Twinset" do you really get a feel for how much is going on pitch-wise. It's still not going to hit you over the head musically (chords remain almost unheard), but these less-crowded moments on an already spare record help to focus your attention on tonality. And that's a running theme - while Autoditacker was decidedly playful throughout, many songs on Queries are framed with a certain amount of buffer material before and after the real meat. This serves to familiarize the listener with what's going to happen before it actually does, and then to concentrate on what has happened after it's done. While it's clear that these drawn-out intros and outros serve a purpose, they also could be construed as filler.

Aside from a few dabblings in live and relatively unprocessed drumming, Queries feels unashamedly synthetic. If St. Werner is basking in the glow of anything at all, it's in the dim 20-watt bulb of a pristinely-tuned and bass-heavy studio filled with the slow-moving architecture of his customized electronic instruments of choice.

It is tempting to think that St. Werner is pulling much of this material from the bottom of his hard drive to give it some air and earn a few euros for Sonig, but it's hard to picture Queries thriving in its original production year of 1998, the same year that much of its potential audience was being blissed out and commandeered by Boards of Canada's landmark Music has the Right to Children (hear "Blasmusik" and "Fi" for espeically close comparisons), where "filler" was used to magnificent and almost poppy effect. Now that the IDM (or, as the Germans like to call it, "post-techno") crowd has settled down a little bit and may even find itself a little jaded with the direction of a music that has splintered into a thousand sub-genres, they may find themselves at a very happy point with Queries.

By Trent Wolbe

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