Cyclic Defrost

An Australian magazine focusing on interesting music

Oval – O (Thrill Jockey)

At once pretty and peculiar, fleeting and marathon, Oval’ first album after a nearly decade-long absence is a twitchy feat of contrasts. It’s a double album, actually, compiling 70 tracks in under two hours. And whereas Oval mainstay Markus Popp once built his gorgeous pops, clicks, and glitches from skipping CDs, on O he starts off with the improvised playing on guitar, drums, and other instruments. The eventual, computer-scrambled result is still utterly Oval – chiming, transcendent, and strangely beautiful – and yet there’ a new vocabulary of references in Popp’ work. Thanks in no small part to that live instrumentation he has sourced, these tracks recall folk and jazz more often than the cold electronic glitch Popp pioneered. That said, there’ still a sound-installation feel to the work, as much suited to a museum or gallery as one’ headphones.

With many tracks averaging a minute or less, it’s easy to experience a listening epiphany that’s gone the very next second. Sequencing is a key element in the presentation and flow of these pieces, which crackle and squeak from one deconstructed idea to the next. Brief tracks can still jump out at you, as proven by “Swiss Summer’ and the 47-second “Parralax’ on the second disk, but the opening two tracks on the first disk are closer to the four-minute mark. “Panorama’ lives up to its name and blows apart any idea of glitch being constrained or detached: it’s warm, lush, and vibrantly acoustic-based. Recalling the later work of his colleagues Mouse On Mars, Popp fiddles with guitar twang, prolonging and heightening its resonance. Real drums then explode onto “ah!’ among a dizzying web of sounds that’s quite emotional really.

Other standouts include the sharp, sudden snaps and rings of the meatier “Brahms Mania’ and the molasses-paced ambience of “Dolo’. There’ a sort of campfire flicker to “Dynamo’ and others as repurposed twang takes on an outdoorsy rustle. Melodies linger and the listener is drawn in by exploded grooves that are oddly rhythmic whether drums are used or not. This is a lot to take in, certainly, and newcomers might be better off starting with the recent Oh EP, a sort of teaser for O that feels a bit more active and grounded. (It’s also much shorter, at 25 minutes.) But don’ put off getting into Oval: it’s a singular project that finds profoundness in an endless tangle of fractured sound.

Doug Wallen

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Cyclic Defrost is Australia’s only specialist electronic music magazine. We cover independent electronic music, avant-rock, experimental sound art and leftfield hip hop. Read more

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