After becoming very nearly obsessed with the 4AD label in the early 90s and buying up all the Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, and other offshoots (like This Mortal Coil) I could get my hands on, I sort of dropped off in the mid 90s as their output seemed to somewhat stagnate. Although they had the Red House Painters for awhile and GusGus, I just kept finding less and less groups of interest and although they tried to branch out a little more with releases like Cuba's Leap Of Faith, it still wasn't anything that knocked me down as much as the things I listened to back in the day.
Magnetophone is a group that might just help me regain a little more interest in the label again. Although they're not really doing anything too differently than a lot of artists out there, they do things well and on this 64-minute excursion with the unwieldy title, they've created quite a few things to be interested in.
The album actually starts out in territory that I could imagine This Mortal Coil performing if they'd continued progressing over the years. Although it's very nearly the shortest track on the album, "Oh Darlin" moves along with a fluttering beat and swirling, ethereal vocals that pull you into the release right from the start. With the start of the second track "Frankenholmes Drive," that lighter sound changes into something slightly more menacing, though, as distorted beats rain down over a light, pretty melody, very neary pummeling it into submission. The long, minimal track is reminiscent of older Aphex Twin work along with tracks like the haunting "Temporary Lid/Georgia."
On "Machine Surrender/Milk Of The Commander," the group mixes up a chunked-out hip-hop sort of beat with fractured, pretty melodies ala Boards of Canada and on "Why Stop When It Feels So Good," they even remind one a bit of Autechre. The interesting thing about the group is that even with all my name dropping above, they've managed to create tracks that don't feel like cheap ripoffs of any of the artists mentioned. Whether they're toying with different sounds that have been explored by other groups or pulling out the stops on tracks like "Air Methods" (which builds from a clicking ambient track to an outright abrasive number), they've still managed to create an interesting batch of tracks.
If I have one problem with the release, it's that some of the tracks run a bit long. While it's not a huge problem, they probably could have pared down some tracks a bit and ended up with a super tight release. Of course, that's my complaint with even some of the old Aphex Twin material, and I still consider it to be fairly classic, so it's a small beef. If you like any of the groups mentioned above, you'd probably do yourself good to check out this release. A solid bunch of tracks from a group who's been around for awhile and will hopefully only keep getting better in the future.