Decomposure: Vertical Lines A
Blank Squirrel

Let us now praise a not-so-famous man, specifically one Caleb Mueller, a Canadian electronic composer currently residing in Elmira, Ontario. Under the name Decomposure, Mueller issued two albums on the now-defunct Unschooled imprint, Taking Things Apart and, a year later, 2005's At Home and Unaffected. Now operating his own label, Blank Squirrel, Mueller continues his Sisyphean quest for global domination with the conceptually daring Vertical Lines A. The package alone, an individually-numbered and handcrafted, rope-bound cardboard case containing liner notes and patterns printed on special paper, is noteworthy all by itself. The album concept? As per the liner notes, each song “draws its central sound source from a single 60-minute cassette, selected in chronological order from a recorded 24-hour timespan (starting at 8:30 a.m. on October 28, 2005).” Mueller then fed each cassette's contents into computer one-by-one and digitally reconstructed and reconstituted them into music. And how does it sound? Mueller's own description of Vertical Lines A—“57 minutes of eclectronica-pop-hop”—offers a good but incomplete starting-point.

More precisely, “Hour 7” distills many of Decomposure's oblique strategies— seizure-gripped, jittery beatsmithing, soaring choruses, emotive vocal melodies—in one fell swoop. “Hour 1” likewise features choirboy vocals, bleepy electro-pop, and soaring, anthemic choruses, while “Hour 2” mixes things up with spoken verses over a mutant drum'n'bass variant and ends especially memorably with a glorious a cappella outro. The formula's certainly compelling, and Mueller typically packs an incredible amount of detail into a given three-minute setting; the verbal barrage alone often beggars belief. The strategy can be counterproductive as it lessens whatever emotional impact the words might have—which in itself is hard to gauge, given their stream-of-consciousness and dada-like flavour. No, Vertical Lines A isn't quite Finnegans Wake though lines like “she kit mobile behind bat seamstress manor,” “boxcarred as long vowels inking handout jacket holes,” and “beneath the falling billowed foot on the vessel eyehanger” do exude a certain Joycean character. In the long run, vocals function more as one more weapon in Mueller's sonic arsenal rather than as a conveyor of intelligible meaning.

Tellingly, the album's most appealing moments are the ones where Mueller's singing is heard sans clutter and accompanied by piano alone; in the beautiful second half of “Hour 8” and elegant third part of “Hour 11,” his voice uncannily resembles Jackson Browne's—a good thing, incidentally. Mueller's voice is a pure and pliant instrument that's effective whether presented as a naked swoon or layered into celestial harmonies. In addition, there's a DVD-ROM that contains fifteen-plus hours of supplemental material including a video, annotated sketchbook, process recordings, photos, and more. All that, plus Mueller's donating a dollar from every album sold to Amnesty International. What are you waiting for?

July 2007