Aera: Offseason Traveller
On his debut Aera album Offseason Traveller, Ralf Schmidt seems to be engaged in a struggle between, on the one hand, working within a genre's traditions and, on the other, breaking free from them so as to explore more experimental territory. Issued on the electronic producer's own Aleph Music label, the forty-eight-minute collection does indeed travel widely, ranging as it does across multiple genres and stylistic terrain, a move attributable, at least in part, to the time Schmidt spent under sunny skies in Peru and Bolivia away from the cold winter of his Berlin home base.
The album's defiant tone might already be seen in the opening piece's title, “Kiss Off,” though the sentiment is probably more directed towards the notion of following tradition than the listening audience. Regardless, the track's ambient character already hints that Aera's material will stray from strict dancefloor conventions, and the wonky, off-kilter style of the subsequent track, “Baby / Comet / Face,” also suggests as much. In almost every track that follows, we hear Schmidt continually push beyond genre boundaries without extending so far that all ties to the genre in question vanishes: “Cambio” starts out with a fresh take on wobbly UK bass music before morphing into a percussion-heavy workout one might encounter during a South American excursion; “Leaving the Fiction” likewise riffs on an established style, in this case jacking house, but gives the style an unusual twist by adding flourishes of string plucks to its bounce. Elsewhere, a manic rave vibe infuses the amped-up “Chevere,” especially when its thrumming percussion winds itself up into repeated peaks, and “Viejo Loco” indulges in warbly synthesizer psychedelia of the kind many cassette-based labels are focusing on at the moment.
“Die Pferden” strikes a near-perfect balance between the two tendencies in digging into its synth-funk with abandon while at the same time working in an off-beat element, in this case a catchy, Shaolin-flavoured flute motif. “Iguazu Express” is as memorable in the way it spirits its jubilant house strut through a dense undergrowth of vocal chants and radio static. The non-conformist, even contrarian tone Schmidt brings to the project isn't a negative. It certainly makes for interesting listening when one never knows what the next track will bring, and, if anything, Offseason Traveller embodies more the kind of adventurous and restless sensibility any musical form can always use more of.