VA: Force Majeure

The twenty-two tracks by Winter + Nocturne, Merk, Mmodule, Makeup and Vanity Set, Systm, and Masaru (Yeti Scalp adds a bonus outro of ghostly wails and pulsating rhythms) that comprise Force Majeure, Ohio-based 409's second music compilation, provide an encompassing introduction to its electronic scene. Though contributors' pieces run the stylistic gamut, most reference to varying degrees the fractured melodicism of labels like Schematic, Merck, and Warp. In fact, Makeup and Vanity Set (Matt Pusti) could almost be seen as a Schematic ambassador for the group, with “If You Do Not Live You Cannot Die” representative of Pusti's approach: grinding bleeps, clanking squeals, and grimy noises hint allusively at rolling beats while distant tones etch tangential themes; here and in his other three pieces, Pusti softens the attack with melancholy synth melodies.

Some artists emphasize a singular style; ade lun sec ventures into sound sculpting with both “Dragoon,” a collage of abstract clatter patterns, curdling synth tones, and waves of steely static and voices, and the insectoid “Kochiemack.” Mmodule (John-Paul Walton) invests his songs with a lively punch whether the material emphasizes machine blasts and synth-boosted beats (“Three M Anthem”) or a jazzy Rhodes feel and bright Kraftwerk-styled melodies (“Untitled”). Other contributors don contrasting stylistic guises: Merk (Daniel J. Merk) opts for granular textures (“Kinetica,” “MTR”) and generic acid techno (“Transcend”) while Systm (Matthew Mercer) offers up conventional melodic IDM (the alternately scurrying and glistening “Kryptozeit”) and, more memorably, the hypnotic hip-hop of “Barely There” with its dubbed-out drone swirls and dramatic piano melodies. Hip-hop characterizes three of Jason Walters' five Winter + Nocturne pieces too (the crisp splatter of tight beats in “Rooting Bears” sound especially good) but his material is generally so brief it cries out for more development. Considerably more satisfying are the two pieces by Masaru (Keith Pishnery): the dramatic and atmospheric “Brendan” features old-school sounds of organ, brass, strings, and piano merged with squashed beats, while a deep rhythmic crunch helps make “Lost Daemon” the album's strongest outing, especially when the beats accompany slithering bass lines and the glistening tones of a harpsichord.

As one would expect, twenty-two tracks makes for a long 76-minute ride though some pieces are so short they seem mere sketches. Though it breaks little new ground, Force Majeure is probably as comprehensive an overview of current and established electronic music sounds as one wish for, and certainly makes the idea of a Cleveland visit a much more attractive proposition.

August 2005