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(Thrill Jockey)

Markus Popp has been around for 10 years now creating music under the name "Oval." He was one of the first artists on the scene to tinker around with what is now pretty much widely known as "glitch" and the "CD skip" noise has pretty much become one of his trademark sounds. Even at that, though, he's managed to keep himself from getting pigeonholed, mainly because he keeps trying new things. He does art installations, he's upped the BPMs (his last album Ovalprocess), and is even in the process of developing software to let everyone make their own Oval track. He's scribbled on other CDs with markers and recorded the sounds and manipulated them and done just about everything one can to deconstruct music on a digital level, so Ovalcommers should really come as no suprise.

This newest release is easily the most textural one from Popp and also probably one that will be the most difficult to digest. In his own words, on the release he wanted, "to combine the most emotionally moving sound to date with the drastic sound of a piece of paper being ripped apart right next to your ear." It's quite a lofty statement (as many of his past quotations have been), and it may be true, but while this record could be labeled his rock record, I would say it falls a lot more into the noise category.

Ovalcommers is 11 tracks pulsing, grating, layers of sound that are sometimes inviting and sometimes offputting. There are times when it feels like you're walking through an orchestra pit when everyone is tuning their instruments, but instead of tuning stringed instruments or horns, 100 different people have different electronic patterns playing on laptop computers and they're trying in vain to sync them all up. There aren't really any beats to speak of on the disc and what's left is texture and lots of it.

Because of that reason, Ovalcommers is a little difficult to describe as one might dissect a different release. The disc opens up with a two-tone pulse that sounds vaguely like a car alarm going off in the distance before some other jagged bits come in and slam into it, knocking it off course for awhile. The pinging siren sound comes back in eventually, as well as a low-end rumble that will shake your bowels, while light skip sounds fleck off the edges like paint blisters. And that's just the first track. The second track (all of them are unnamed) surfs along on that familiar skip-skip sound, but is enveloped with many different clouds of hazy noise and screeching (including a piece that sounds like a digital voice trying to say something through the racket). The fourth track begins with a wheeze of absolute beauty, but that sound eventually stumbles and falls into the background of the track as other static and tones prevail.

The release is one of the most claustrophobic and difficult pieces of music that I've had to make it through in awhile. Granted, there are some amazing sonic textures and definitely interesting tracks and bits, but sitting through the entire release makes me feel a bit crushed. It seems like a natural combination (probably because I just re-read the story recently), but if you've ever plowed through Harlan Ellison's I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, I think that Ovalcommers might be a great soundtrack if it is ever realized on film. It's unrelenting and while their are flickers of hope, it's a bit overwhelming. I've got to give Popp credit for trying different things, but I think he's trapped in the machine.

Rating: 5.75