alog, “amateur”

Artist: alog
Title: amateur
Release Date: 2007

alog, amateur, released 2007 by rune grammofon

1) son of king
2) a throne for the common man
3) write your thoughts in water
4) sleeping instruments
5) the beginner
6) the learning curve
7) turn back, undo
8) a book of lightning
9) the future of norwegian wood
10) exit virtuoso
11) bedlam emblem
12) the northeast passage

In amateur, alog’s musical sensibilities and goals are still proudly evident, as they continue to build vast, dreamlike compositions, almost like alien landscapes. However, they introduce a number of new elements and surprises to their palette of timbres.

Most notable is their inclusion of natural (or at least undetectably altered) sounds; the duo play various metallophones, and they sing simple melodies as well on some tracks[1]. As a kind of second-order “natural” sound, some songs feature percussion that’s sampled oddly[2], and then stitched together to form melodies. It’s an odd, but mesmerizing effect; the aural equivalent of a ransom note[3]. This heavy use of Partch-like percussion lends the CD a ritual, mystical atmosphere, like a series of magical incantations.

The album is mixed very unusally; the instruments are made to sound up close and dry, with almost no reverb…as if you’re listening to a performance in a small, softly padded room. This lends the music an intimacy often not present in most electronica, and serves as a lovely contrast to the sprawling nature of their songs, and the more spacious feel of their electronically-generated sounds.

Like miniatures, amateur is very hit-and-miss. Some tracks never seem to really gel, sounding like a random mishmash of unrelated sounds; some feature so little that they seem like a waste of time. However, the best pieces, such as “a throne for the common man”, “the beginner”, and “bedlam emblem”, begin with trickles of sound that grow and pulsate, expanding into huge, beautiful waterfalls of sound and noise, filled with a mix of soaring melody and cacophony; they build so organically that they almost seem like living things.

The most memorable parts of the CD aren’t the motives, melodies, rhythms, or what have you, but the sense of climax on the best compositions, the feeling of having reached some epiphany, an inner stillness only possible to experience in the center of a storm.

(1) Vocals on previous albums were fed through a vocoder, a roboticizing effect.

(2) Imagine listening to someone speak in such a way that you can’t hear the beginnings or ends of syllables.

(3) It’s a neat technique I’ve also heard used by The Books and Susumu Hirasawa, though to much smoother effect.