Monday, March 16, 2009

Animal Hospital - Memory (Barge Recordings CD)

Also from Brainwashed:

Working at the crossroads between a variety of contradictory approaches—electronic and acoustic, improvisation and composition, producer and performer—Kevin Micka continues to hone his Animal Hospital project's refined explorations on this disc, compounding his broad and considerable talents into a majestic grit that shimmers with supple detail.

With a slew of instruments at his disposal, Micka has the means to create haunting and unusual sonic combinations throughout the album, a trait that sets him apart from so many of the do-it-yourself electronic explorers out there. Chimes, oscillators, guitars, toy pianos and Jonah Sacks' cello are among the plethora of noise makers fed and looped through large dosages of reverb and delay. Never one to let the effects speak for themselves though, Micka proves himself an able craftsmen, and any effect here is used as an endorsement of and contributor to the greater structure of the work.

The lengthy "His Belly Burst" is a fitting example. Sacks' nimble cello line opens with a line evocative of a Japanese folk melody. Building off of that mood, the piece is crafted upward as lines overlap and loop into an electronic wash of blissful tonalities. Soon interspersed with glitching electronics and, eventually, thudding, militaristic power chords and careening drum lines, the work grows into a textural bath of tone and sharp, staccato punctuation before settling back into its beginnings. That the piece manages to incorporate so many elements in its 17 minutes without ever feeling superfluous is impressive enough, but Micka manages to guide the work into something far greater than the sum of its parts.

Each work here presents itself with a similar ear for dramatic lines and structural buildup. On "...and ever," a Neu!-like drum pulse leads to slinking guitar lines, thudding bass and, ultimately, a propulsive brand of head-bangable psychedelic riffage. While Micka's ability to extrapolate on these tiny musical cells and turn them into full scale works is no small accomplishment, and he does it with aplomb every time, the result does dabble toward slightly sterile terrain due mostly in part to its consistance. Even when lyrics slip in to the album for the first time halfway through "...and ever," it fits in so neatly among the other gadgety rhythms around it that the resultant feel is perhaps less surprising than intended.

This is by no means a deterrent against his approaches however. Some of these tracks reach truly unexpected heights while never straying too far from a certain breed of electronic-rock loop craftsmanship. Think Caribou but with a more proggy and less literal psychedelic sound. Micka also has the smarts to follow up his epic works with paired-down ones, and these provide smooth and necessary transitions between the three lengthy centerpieces of the album. The gently lilting guitar and wordless vocal melodies of "A Safe Place" rest atop an odd synthesized beat that manages to succeed in effect without shoving it down your throat.

The closing title track fittingly displays Micka's talents at their height, as low-end cello rumble, fragile guitar lines and panning clicks grow into a synthesized soup of gooey loop manipulations and Eno-esque ambiance. It all works beautifully, if it seems as though Micka could do this in his sleep. Sterilizing though that may be, the sincerity, skill and vision on display is exciting in a day when few manage to walk the line between experimental attitudes and near pop approachability with so finely attuned a vision.


brad rose said...

great record, great review.

Henry Smith said...

thanks brad.

Henry Smith said...

and yeah, pretty great stuff.