Tiki Obmar: Seasons

You won't find a wealth of information in the material accompanying Tiki Obmar's second Merck outing. While Seasons contains remixes of original songs from the band, it's unclear whether they're versions of the three band songs which open the album or of pieces from the group's 2003 debut High School Confidential; the situation isn't helped by remix titles which adopt the following pattern in all cases: “Helios Remix,” “Cepia Remix,” and so on. For all we know, the guests are remixing new untitled Tiki tracks beyond the aforementioned three that have titles.

What we do know, however, is that Tiki Obmar is a Minneapolis-based, instrumental guitar-bass-drums trio (Graham Chapman, Chris Smalley, Brett Bullion) that formed in late 2000 and last year released a seven-track debut that combines live playing with electronics. We also know that Tiki's more ‘natural' sound adds a new slant to the style of electronic music for which Merck is known. Given its unusual structure—three originals followed by eleven remixes—, the new album obviously fails as a unified and coherent 'artist' statement but needless to say anyone broaching it along those lines is misguided. So how does it fare as a smattering of band originals and remixes? Extremely well, thank you very much, even if there's a clear sonic detour following the band's opening twenty minutes to the guests' interpretations that come after.

Tiki begins the album in fine form, with the opener especially strong. “Porch” starts restrainedly, with vibes gradually added to the group's intricate interplay, but tension builds until the piece explodes in a carefully modulated hailstorm of guitar strafings and thunderous drumming. As with all great bands of this sort, the drummer's role is critical and he strikes the ideal balance, adopting a seeming looseness while still powering the others through the track's changes; not surprisingly, bass lines anchor the song, allowing the others freer reign. Slamming guitar chords lift “I..I..I.. Was” into a more aggressive sphere, though the piece ultimately resembles a jam. In “Some Kids Like Cartoons,” the most electronic of the three pieces, bright synth melodies add uplift until the huge crunch of drums and guitar roars in to offset it. Though the group adheres to clearly delineated compositional structures, the musicians aren't constricted by them as the intensity of their playing makes clear. If only all such bands played with equal passion.

Seasons is most distinguished, however, by its guests' contributions. In some cases (like the animated Autechrian array of dense whirrs, lashes, and bass pops that dominate “Machine Drum Remix”), we're treated to what one might expect from Merck. Not that that's a bad thing when the result is as superb as Huntley Miller's “Cepia Remix” which slithers marvelously, its creaking percussive motif heard through hissing clouds as electronic sinews stretch over the thrumming creaks. In other cases, there are major surprises. Richard Bailey's “Proem Remix” incorporates Steve Reich-influenced marimba and vibes patterns (even if Tiki Obmar's heavy guitar-drum fuzz sometimes threatens to drown them), while Zack Wright's Deceptikon mix is a sweet lullaby shuffle, of all things, heard bobbing in an ocean of soft hiss; amidst guitar twang and subdued drum patterns, resonant cello-like chords drape across the song's gentle base, adding to its hypnotic character. Tim Koch's mellow yet funky take of brightly whirring synths and tight drum patterns is also irresistible. The peak, though, has to be the beautiful “Helios Remix” where Keith Kenniff imbues the song with gorgeous layers of melancholy tones and piano. Finally, the album ends strongly in lush ambient mode with Adam Johnson's shifting fields of shimmer and droning choirs.

Admittedly, it often sounds like the connection between a given remix and Tiki Obmar is tangential at best, and while that might displease the group's hardcore fans, it doesn't negate the superior quality of the remixes themselves. It's also curious that a band would choose to release a debut and then follow it up with a collection of three originals and a slew of remixes. Regardless of the explanation for the move (one report I happened upon stated that “in August 2004 Tiki stopped being a band,” but that report may be nothing more than rumour), there's no disputing that Season's tasty group appetizer and full course of Merck mixes constitutes a wealth of satisfying material.

November 2004