Thursday, October 23, 2008

Worth Seeking (III)

Jessica Rylan: Interior Designs (Important Records, 2007)
It's one of life's minor pleasures to arrive home and finding new music in the mailbox, so when I returned to my hovel from th'office recently, wrapped in a green and pallid miasma of exhaustion and fit to do naught but sit down and stare vacantly at the television, I was delighted to find that a CD I'd ordered from the US of A ages ago was lying on the carpet in front of the door: Jessica Rylan's Interior Designs (there was also a phone bill, but my joie de vivre woudn't be quashed by such a trifle). I must say that there's nothing like the appearance of a honking slab of cacophonous blare to put a new step in my stride, so I skipped lightly to the CD player and put it on very, very loud while I waited for my dinner to cook.
Ms. Rylan is a singer/songwriter, sound artist, and noise musician who usually operates under the nom-de-plume of Can't and also builds her own synthesisers (including the brilliantly named Battery Powered Noise Generator; boy, I wanna get me one of those!). You can view her website here (oddly enough, there's no mention of this album there that I can find). Based on a musical interpretation of Chaos Theory (although I find her liner notes a bit glib and uninformative; it would be more salient to get details on how the pieces were actually composed, or generated) it consists of four roughly ten-minute-long tracks:
'extraordinary', the opener, starts with a harsh metronomic pulse before suddenly disintegrating into an eruption of sonic indigestion: fifteen minutes of whining, blurping, and surging electronic spurts and gurgles - the sound of R2D2's stomach after way too much curry and tequila - which is quite fascinating due to the sheer variety, and unpleasantness, of the squelchy, flatulent sounds she produces from her synthesisers (this is where the liner notes' deficiencies become apparent: Were these tracks composed or improvised, or a mix of both? Were they simply generated like cellular automata, where from a simple set of programmed instructions the track emerges organically like mould spreading on a loaf of bread, with the composer having minimal control over the results? Are they complete in themselves, or merely the most interesting snippets from much longer takes?). One also gets the feeling that the composer takes a gleeful pleasure in the scatalogical overtones of the noises that she is pulling out of her boxes, which is entertaining in itself as humour is something that seems lacking from a lot of noise/electronica (that I've heard, anyway).
The second track, 'timeless', is for me the most interesting: Rylan conjures up a fuzzy, grainy, monochromatically ruinous landscape, a desolate, rainswept beach in November or a crumbling city in Siberia, seen intermittently through bursts of hurricane-induced static, punctuated and disrupted by ambiguous sonic hieroglyphics. A harsh electronic wind blows throughout this particular piece, and the increasingly loud and aggressive nature of the gale she evokes brings to mind an elemental landscape being etched by ferocious forces; if you were a sea-stack of the coast of northern Scotland, battered by storm and sea, this is what your world might sound like. Unlike the other tracks on the album, which to me are entertaining but not wildly original electronica, this track has real force and intensity.
'phantasia' conjures up an electronic landscape of twittering, scurrying pond life in a rock pool, over which another churning storm blows its course. This track, while interesting, somehow lacks the intensity and excitement of the previous two, however.
The title track is a bit of an odd-(wo)man-out, a drum machine and acoustic guitar duet which has a certain down-home charm (the sound of someone practising, strumming, just enjoying themselves) but seems a little out of place with its wilder synthesiser buddies, and gives the impression of being stuck in there to allow the album a respectable running time.
I suppose the problem with this music is that, while it's not at all bad - indeed, some of it is excellent - it lacks that certain quality of brilliance which would distinguish itself from the countless other practitioners in this field. One gets the feeling that Rylan is being a little too self-conscious and restrained, a little too respectful of tradition, to let loose with some of the tougher, more abrasive elements of this kind of music, and this lack of nerve (and inspiration) holds the pieces back from achieving their full potential. The video posted below (which sounds a little like 'extraordinary') is considerably more fierce, and the better for it, than anything on the album above. But it's very promising, and certainly good enough to make me seek out some of her work as Can't, including New Secret, a 2005 album which comes highly recommended by The Wire magazine (source of all that is wonderful in modern music! and which is where I found out about Rylan in the first place). Anyway, here she is in action:

So what are you waiting for? Get thee to her website and do your bit to support the arts (and beat the recession blues) by purchasing some noise! Hell, buy a synthesiser and annoy your neighbours (their house will probably be repossessed anyway, or yours will, so either way it's not a long-term problem, and it'll take their mind off of their financial woes...)

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