Freeform: Outside In

Freeform (Simon Pyke) is Skam's longest-serving artist yet, oddly enough, Outside In is only his second full-length release for the label. Listeners familiar with last year's Wildcat EP will have a good idea of what to expect from the album's twelve songs: idiosyncratic settings that draw upon folk, ethnic, and electronic musical styles. Like Portable, Freeform constructs his material using acoustic and electronic elements but his sound is less geographically rooted than Portable's and it's this that gives Freeform's music its abstracted, non-linear, and free-floating quality. Admirably, Pyke's explorative tendencies prevent him from presenting his pieces as straight 4/4 techno, for example, but such impulses also alienate those listeners wanting an easier foothold. Nevertheless, Pyke's fusion of folk and electronic elements is distinctive, regardless of how accessible it may or may not be.

The album ranges between the relaxed, electro-folk setting “Talking Me Over,” where Pyke's sleepily murmurs (“it's taking over me”) over a gently bumping base of clacking rhythms and grinding fragments, the bleeping tech-house of “Follow Your Shadow” with its warbling, Theremin-styled synth waverings, and the experimental folk-jazz of “Don't Wait Up” which includes wah-wah trumpet that vaguely recalls the kind of hallucinatory drift Miles was experimenting with during his Get Up With It phase. In addition to peaceful settings like “Walk,” “Wonderplucks,” and the kalimba weave “Everything Changes,” Outside In even references Steve Reich via ostinato piano patterns in the polyrhythmic “Eating Weather.” Perhaps the most powerful piece is “Catch 22,” an episodic hoedown that features rambunctious African drumming patterns coupled with electronic glissandi, vibes, talking drum, and acoustic bass, and at one point even spotlights a funky techno rhythm, thereby pointing out the connection between exotic and dance rhythms—merely one surprising turn of many on this wide-ranging but rich mosaic of sound.

June 2005