“Odyssey (for Bas Jan Ader)” is the name of the sixth and longest track on Arp’s debut LP In Light. Best not to assume that the longest track on an album is necessarily its centerpiece; still, “Odyssey” seems with each listen to be the central node in this album’s burnished surface. To wit, Bas Jan Ader was a Dutch conceptual artist famously lost at sea while crossing the Atlantic in a 13-foot boat. Ader’s crossing was the second part of a planned three-part work titled “In Search of The Miraculous,” and there’s more than a little in these songs to suggest that Arp is after something similar, and similarly aware of and invested in the monotony of the search. Unfolding like an undiminished transverse wave, nothing on this album crests or breaks It’s not hard to hear this as both Arp’s own carefulness around new equipment and a certain, increasingly common Kosmische kitsch (cf. White Rainbow).
Arp is also known as SF resident Alexis Georgopoulos, who helped found Tussle in the early zeroes, departing in the wake of last year’s vector-packed jammer Telescope Mind, in which he played a major role, to pay more attention to his modular synths and pulse machines. It wasn’t noticeable at the moment the band first emerged, but it is increasingly clear, with bands like The Rapture and Radio 4 drowsing away in comfortable irrelevance, that ‘dancepunk’ was shorthand not for a return to the interjections and suspensions of post-punk but rather for post-hardcore’s stubborn persistence, all of its impatience and defensiveness intact. Tussle managed to escape by dint of having understood that the stakes of ‘rhythm music’ (this amazingly ahistorical term appears on their website) lie equally in the friction and pleasure produced when working out of their depth.
As with Ader, there’s a self-seriousness here that’s plainly ridiculous but which also veers away from self-parody. “St. Tropez,” the album’s opening track, is spare in an unmistakably didactic way, a sort of “Young Person’s Guide to The Music of Cluster.” The tracks that follow are intent neither on obliterating nor extending this tone: “The Rising Sun” is an aqueous solution of flute and roiling piano that roughly approximates the cover art of Roxy Music’s Avalon, while “Premonition of The Sculptor Steiner” is all exposition, giving the impression of converging with the present as it recedes further into the past.
“Odyssey,” on the other hand, sounds as if it’s under a terrible amount of pressure. In Light is nothing if not aware of its own kitschiness, as is “Farewell to Faraway Friends,” the Ader photo its cover art and title reference. With the exception of “Odyssey,” the album’s songs, even as they diverge, are bathed in a leveling, nostalgic light. “Odyssey” departs by quashing the round, fuzzy contours of the emphatically analog equipment used. The notes ricochet against walls whose dimensions are impossible to make out. The feeling is not one of capsizing so much as just barely staying afloat. There’s no threat of things going wrong, and even less hope of things improving. Even more so than with his former group, Georgopoulos seems unconcerned with creating a ‘here’ to depart from, much less a ‘there’ to arrive at. His primary concern here is to attempt, with bare ambition, to index a distance we don’t yet have the units to measure, the extent to which we don’t match up with ourselves.
By Brandon Bussolini