John Lemke's debut album People Do is hard to pin down; it doesn't slot itself easily into one particular genre but instead bridges many. Its instrumentals aren't quite post-rock, for example, though there are earmarks of the style present in the album's more muscular tracks, and it's not electronica or ambient either, even if again there are connections to both in the album's construction and occasional Eno-esque moments. Calling them soundscapes doesn't quite cut it either, as the material is hardly drone-like and furthermore has a rhythmic dimension largely foreign to that particular genre. Perhaps the best way to describe Lemke's pieces is to call them instrumental moodscapes of rich stylistic character (that the press release pitches People Do as having potential appeal to fans of Four Tet, Boards Of Canada, Hauschka, Pole, and Lali Puna in itself points to the broad stylistic scope of Lemke's music).
And who, one might ask, is John Lemke? A Glasgow-based composer originally from Berlin who's established himself as a documentary composer for the BBC and Channel 4 in the UK and become known as a guest musician touring with Poppy Ackroyd, that's who. One key to opening his debut album (preceded by the digital-only EP Walizka) is to start with his grandmother's piano, a dusty relic from 1920s Berlin he serendipitously happened upon in an attic and which he then modified in order to apply principles of musique concrète to the music he was creating. Another is to bear in mind that Lemke purposefully strove to add a stronger rhythm dimension to the album's music so as to distance it from the orchestral film-related work produced for his day job. The result is an oft-aggressive, forty-two-minute patchwork of evocative sound paintings populated by prepared piano and viola melodies, guitar textures, and field recordings (from Berlin, Brandenburg, and London, among others).
And so it is that “End of Endless” could conceivably be spoken of in the same breath as early Four Tet to the degree that the track deftly pairs a strong melodic line with an equally rich percussive design. So, too, could “Shatterbox,” which receives a powerful boost from Felipe Sumina's tenor sax playing, in particular his voicing of the track's memorable four-note theme. Also making a key difference to the album's sound is violist Kim Moore, who appears on four of the nine tracks. Elsewhere, dulcimer-like shimmers (generated by the prepared piano, one presumes) imbue “The Air Between” with an exotic Eastern character that nicely complements the music's robust percussive attack, “Dorothea I” finds the piano wrapped in gauze in an quasi-ambient setting that can't help but call Harold Budd and Eno to mind, and “Illuminations” sees the orchestral- and dance-oriented sides of Lemke's world combined when emotive strings arc o'ertop a pulsating house-techno groove. The album ends upliftingly with “When We Could,” a polished example of emotive electronica bolstered by a euphonious piano melody and a quietly rapturous spirit enhanced by outdoors field recordings. It's quality material, no matter what description one finally settles upon, not to mention impeccably crafted and mastered by Lemke and Nils Frahm, respectively.