Originally from Adelaide, Stefan Panczak made waves in 2004 with an EP of warm folktronica, which he followed with a well-received album and a number of EPs on cult label Static Caravan after moving to London.
The Floating World is the first release on Panczak’s new label Mystery Plays Records, and so it feels appropriate that as well as being an album by the label-owner, it comes with a remix disc (available separately) that allows him to curate a selection from among his very talented musical friends. Panczak has already proved himself a very able curator with his Teaism compilation from 2008. But we’ll get to the remixes later.
Panczak describes the current Inch-time production style as a cross between bedroom electronica and club music. There’s definitely a 4/4 house beat in a lot of these tracks which wasn’t very discernible in a lot of his previous music. This reviewer is famously allergic to the four-kicks-to-the-bar clunk of house music, so Inch-time has a minor hurdle to jump in order to sell me on this new music. In the main, the album ably leapfrogs any such concerns, due to the continuing organic wamth of the production.
Opener “Videograms” comes straight in with the 4/4, but about a minute later a keyboard throws down a kind of bassline, a three-octave drop that weights down the off-beat before the start of each phrase. Further keyboard lines flesh out a dark but somehow welcoming space, with gentle dub influences.
This is a very electronic album, but Panczak’s sonic choices place it in a direct lineage back to his earlier work. The tracks alternate between more housey numbers and more chilled tracks with more acoustic sounds. Even the keyboards invoke marimbas and vibraphones as much as Fender Rhodes. The dub influence (present from his very first EP) is still there, especially in highlight “Suspensions”, in which an organ line is indeed suspended over a clicking beat and slow-moving chords, reminiscent of the Necks in ambient mode. The album’s possibly a little too friendly and pleasant overall, but rather than damning with faint praise, I’d like to think this is offering up a token criticism for a very strong new work.
The remix album is an even more exciting affair. It’s popular in the mainstream music press to deride remix albums for some reason, and there are those who introduce any review of one with a declaration of their dislike for the form. In contrast, I’m an afficionado of the remix disc, and will buy them just for a couple of remixes by artists I’m a fan of.
Two favourite artists appear on this disc, both of whom exceed expectations: Canberra duo Spartak re-fix the chimes of ambient track “X-Ray Eyes” with vocals from both members, and a driving electronic beat. It’s an indication of where their work will take them this coming year, and it’ll be essential listening. UK duo Icarus (half Australian resident nowadays) also keep the bottom-end movement from Inch-time’s sound, while sending the beats through myriad delays and randomisers to create a typically fascinating organic/digital sound. But remix albums often also host new discoveries, and Old Growth in Asia is this release’s Name To Watch. There’s precious little info about this artist, a medical doctor like Panczak himself, but his track is a highlight, taking the original’s queasy synth lines and surrounding them with a simple bassline and inventive, changing beat.
Benge’s closer is a gorgeous (if short) piece of glitchy drone, and none of the reworkings let the album down, not even that by a certain once-ground-breaking folktronica band of whose latest album the less said the better.
Both The Floating World and its accompanying remixes are among 2010’s best Australian releases.