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Casino versus Japan - Whole Numbers Play the Basics

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Artist: Casino versus Japan

Album: Whole Numbers Play the Basics

Label: Carpark

Review date: Oct. 28, 2002

The steady influx in electronic pop over the past few years has been almost exclusively Kraut in origin. Perhaps best epitomized by Berlin’s Morr Music label, the “indie-electronica” movement trades in the heavy bass and trance of its predecessors, focusing instead on melody and atmosphere to create pop songs for the digital age. German artists like Ulrich Schnauss, B. Fleischmann and the Notwist, whose Neon Golden blew away any preconceived notions of electronica’s boundaries, make music that could survive late nights on the town, but ultimately realizes the redundancy of the club culture. These beats don’t throb or woof, and what they lack in sex appeal, they attempt to recover through a combination frontal lobe flexing and Top 40 sensibility.

This laptop Top of the Pops ideology has resulted in a number of great albums, mostly by European artists. All apologies to Audio Dregs and Plug Research, but America’s best have fallen somewhat short of the standards set by its counterparts across the pond.

That is, until now.

The U.S. finally has a suitable benchmark for RoboPop – Casino versus Japan’s Whole Numbers Play the Basics. And, whaddayaknow, he’s already recorded for Morr Music. Oddly enough, Casino versus Japan (a.k.a. Erik Kowalski) hails from a land famous for German cuisine – Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but unlike most of his Dairyland compatriots, Kowalski bypasses the bratwurst and cheeseheads for something decidedly less cumbersome.

Whole Numbers Plays the Basics consists of buried unassuming hip hop rhythms behind layers of ambient noise, morphing the seemingly disparate into the indisputably dynamic. Nether regions are dissolved amidst wispy melodies, giving the songs a homogenized taste, far different from techno’s bump ‘n’ thump globule approach. The beats breach the surface only after floating through fathoms of fuzzed-out synth and guitar, the relaxed tempos in no rush to assert themselves.

Kowalski’s influences run down his chin and onto his sleeve. His swirling atmospheric synths recall the chaotic bliss of My Bloody Valentine and the Cocteau Twins, draping thick curtains of reverb and hiss over primarily unpretentious Casio riffs. These backdrops often act as introductions, setting the stage for their rhythmic brethren. The permeating fog on “Where to? / What for?” establishes the confines, then saunters out a swinging stream of sixteenth-note high hats. While hardly the poppiest tune on Whole Numbers, the moments of exchange between eighth- and sixteenth-hits never grow tiresome on repeated listens.

The symbiotic relationship of brittle beats and nebulous accompaniment remains Kowalski’s trademark throughout Whole Numbers. “Manic Thru Tone” loops an industrial triplet-beat behind fuzzed-out drones, while synthetic recorders flutter atop the din. “Aquarium” features wire-thin clicks and strolls along to a submerged bass loop. “Tryptiline Fabricate’s” washed-out vibes ascend lullaby-style to the ticks of a ghetto electronic metronome, tapping away at 50 bpm.

None of the techniques on Whole Numbers are necessarily fresh (the swingin’ sixteenths not withstanding), but Casino versus Japan’s collection of eddies and engines rise above the easily-attained IDM field to form legitimate pop songs heretofore foreign to these shores. Pardon the pun, but on Whole Numbers Play the Basics, Casino versus Japan clearly breaks the bank. Bling-bling, indeed!

By Otis Hart

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