Deaf Center: Neon City

Neon City is one of those releases that may be classified as “electronica” but sounds only tangentially so, if, that is, the acoustic noir-jazz of “Dial” can be taken as a reliable exemplar of the Deaf Center style. This elegant opener exudes a ruminative, nocturnal ambiance that aligns the group (Norwegian compatriots Erik Skodvin and Otto Totland) with its City Centre Offices counterpart Dictaphone whose acoustic style is also broadened by electronics. In general, Skodvin and Totland eschew fashionable glitch effects for an evocative blend of acoustic and electronic sounds, with a heavy emphasis on piano and guitars. The picked and strummed acoustic guitars give “Dial” an almost Spanish feel, a mood perhaps intentionally cultivated given the presence of castanets-like percussion and jazz-tinged, cymbal-laden drumming. Here and elsewhere the style is elegant and atmospheric, the mood sombre. At disc's end, a remix of “Dial” by Keith Kenniff (aka Helios) appears and, while it doesn't sacrifice any of the original's delicacy, it's more beat-based, harder-edged and more propulsive. It stands in clear contrast to the five Deaf Center pieces which sometimes omit beats altogether, leaving the tracks to unfold meditatively and seemingly drift—“seemingly” the operative word, of course, because there's nothing accidental about how these carefully composed pieces develop. Skodvin and Totland sometimes pursue a more symphonic approach (the surging waves of piano echo on “Limn”), while at other times hazy ambience (“City” and “Walk,” both enhanced by reverberant guitar shimmer reminiscent of Jonas Munk's Manual style) or meditative placidity (the coupling of bells and tinkles with acoustic guitars on “Asia”). Electronics are included discreetly as part of the overall sound fabric, whether it's a scratchy looped rhythm in “City” or phasing effects on “Dial” that give the guitars and strings a sweeping effect. Regardless of whether it's defined as an EP or mini-album, Neon City presents Deaf Center as a group intent on crafting nuanced, through-composed atmospheres of cinematic scope.

April 2004