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Signer - Low Light Dreams

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Artist: Signer

Album: Low Light Dreams

Label: Carpark

Review date: Aug. 5, 2002

It’s difficult to define precisely what makes abstract electronic albums good; during analysis one is hard pressed to articulate why a given combination of computer processed and sampled sounds appealing. One key element might be the detail, or lack thereof, used to make a musical point—the hook. Easily recognizable and definable in most pop and jazz as melody or head, it is also prominent in electronic sub-genres like house (which might be its essence—hook fetishized) or jungle. The new Signer release Low Light Dreams on Carpark struck me as promising. Bevan Smith (Signer) honed his hook skills playing in indie rock bands during the 90’s and has also put out some electronic records as Signer and Aspen; plus, his label Carpark has released some excellent records recently including Greg Davis’ Arbor and most of the Marumari catalog.

What followed, however, seemed to skirt the boundaries of essential detail. Low Light Dreams hints at both minimalism and more textured compositions without ever really deciding between the two. This is not always a bad thing (some artists can reconcile or exist as two separate entities) but it is disappointing in the case of Signer. The album opens promisingly with the expansive “light falls me.” The closest comparable music might be Eno’s Discreet Music, but instead of concentrating on the tectonics of instruments shifting against each other at different speeds, Signer slowly manipulates one melody against a backdrop of static. Granted, an Eno reference is good thing, but Signer is unable to bring things full-circle. The melodies he works with are great but fail to either develop or completely engross the listener. About half the album is beat-less, and Signer achieves varying degrees of success in both the ambient and more straight-ahead passages of the album.

The taut cadence of “grosse strasse” is underdeveloped, it does not hone in on either side of detail binary; the melody is good, but the drums are superfluous. The cadence is too grating—if the drum track were left out of this song it might succeed. The final track “post obsession” is a happy medium between the two Signer styles—slow, drawn out drums coupled with a light feedback drone coalesce as one of the best tracks of the album. Similarly, “detached under buildings” paces itself with a tuneful riff and slightly more complex rhythms.

One can hear the two sides of Signer battling (OK, well not battling), but being magnetically manipulated and tugged in two opposing directions on Low Light Dreams. It seems that a bolder statement in favor of a more drum or pure ambience would be superior. Few artists who have been able to synthesize the two with great success, and this album sounds like it should be decidedly in one of the two camps rather than trying to encompass both of them. Signer’s Carpark cohort Greg Davis probably creates the best amalgam of this kind with his densely beautiful “Arbor.”

The varying degrees of detail on this album don’t seem to synch up with one another often enough to succeed. Perhaps the best way to characterize the album is to riff on one of Signer’s song titles: “dreaming about making music to dream to.” The most apt characterization of Low Light Dreams might be “making film music to films that need film music.” Film music’s function as backdrop, or enhancer / stimulus for emotion has a comparable effect to Low Light Dreams. Signer creates focused but somewhat diluted music that functions better as a wash of sounds than as a cohesive whole. Wide in scope but short on critical mass, when Signer further solidifies his sound he’ll be able to put out an excellent record.

By Marc Gilman

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