Things start out really well; “Scott Free’ builds and swells along like the tropical orchid referred to in the press release, musty pollen drifting through the night air. A delicate interplay of layered guitars leads into an insistent beat and Jasmine’ delicate, sometimes hardly intelligible vocals. A resounding clarity of voice is foregrounded with the refrain â€œI saw my life branching out in front of me, success on my own terms and nothing lessâ€. Mixing electronic and experimental angles with more traditional approaches (and an underpinning of acoustic guitars) seems well within Jasmine Guffond’ grasp. Yet, ‘Scott Free’ is the highlight of Alphabet Noise Dream for me. “The City is Moving Like a Map’, is also a successful merging of disparate forms (dusted, low key breakbeats, delicate guitars, and environmental sounds) into a delicate and dreamy paean to who knows whatâ€¦ And “Forgotten Wood’ is a dream sequence of stuttering vocals, situated at the apex between Shirley Collins and Workshop.
Mostly the other tracks on Alphabet Noise Dream follow a similar formula to the standout numbers â€” a two-part tune, with some drifty vox (reminding me, at times, of Bilinda Butcher from My Bloody Valentine), experimental textures, and a variety of sensitive acoustic guitar arrangements. There’ nothing irritating or offensive about the tunes on Jasmina Maschina’ second album under this moniker, yet by “Invisible Rays’ I’m longing for some more variety, verve and less cotton wool. Alphabet Noise Dream sounds somewhat naive to these jaded ears, is Jasmine playing with her audience, or is she now just confident enough to reveal more than before? My impression of most musicians who move to Berlin is that they get steelier and head in a more electronic direction, not less so. I see parallels with Will Oldham in the DNA of Alphabet Noise Dream. Retreating from the spooked, redemption soaked Appalachian backwoods of the early nineties, by 2001, Bonnie “Prince’ Billy’ Ease Down The Road was variously described as an album where the old misanthrope found love and foregrounded his dark humour, and was certainly more palatable to a wider audience.
At this stage in cultural proceedings, the deployment of wide-ranging sounds sources and techniques is a very well established methodology, no longer two guitars, bass and drums for most. Layers of Tibetan monks chanting mantras over walls of processed guitars and Nyabinghi drums, merging into a flanged break culled from The Winstons back catalogue which then dissolves into found-sounds and delicately-plucked guitar, has almost become standard-fare in the last decade. When I was at High School last century, I daily risked bodily harm by daring to like punk rock and hip hop at the same time! How things have changedâ€¦ Sometimes this musical catchall catholic catharsis works perfectly, at other times the surge and segue between differing forms can feel as if we are children at the sweets table of an all-you-can-eat buffet without an adult in sight.
Jasmine was one half of lowercase avant-garde electronics duo Minit, whose Sigma Editions album, simply entitled Music has rarely left my stereo for long since 1999. I probably would not have attributed the late-night sentimentality of “Marry Me’ to the bass player from Sydney’ Alternahunk, whose 1996 album was released by that bastion of all things toxic and mind melting, dualpLOVER. Maybe I’m just being a hard taskmaster; musicians are allowed to change directions, and mature like the rest of us (hopefully) do. But I just long for the spark that glows so brightly on “Scott Free’ (and also on “Slow Walker’, from her previous Staubgold album, in 2008) to ignite, to transcend, to breathe new life into song, to hot-wire experimental electronics. Maybe I’m just asking too much.