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360 Business/360 Bypass

Pan American
360 Business / 360 Bypass

It was just over two years ago that I saw Pan American (aka Mark Nelson of Labradford) in concert. I had hitched a ride with a friend of mine and drove 10 miles to Chicago to Godspeed You Black Emperor, and opening for the thundering Canadian collective was Bardo Pond and Pan American. One of the many strange sites of the evening was Mark Nelson sitting up on the stage on a folding chair, balanced on two legs for nearly his entire performance while he twidled various knobs on keyboards and drum machines while a single light shone down from the ceiling on him. He was so inconspicuous (although the smooth rolling basslines coming out of the huge speakers betrayed his presence somewhat) that many of the people talking in the audience probably had no idea that he was even there, as they were simply too caught up with talking with friends to notice.

In a nutshell, the music on 360 Business / 360 Bypass can somewhat be likened to that experience as well. Listened to at a quiet level, there isn't much to the release other than repetitive tones and some occasionally changing thick low ends. Like many releases in the genre that it falls into, it can be put on in the background and simply left there almost un-noticed, while you go about washing dishes, reading or whatever else. It moves along at a steady pace and doesn't have enough changes in dynamics to demand attention, yet once you turn up the volume a little bit, the different layers are revealed and wrap themselves around you.

Comprised of 6 long tracks (running almost an hour long), the release has things in common with both Pole (without all the glitch sounds), as well as different Basic Channel releases. The opening track of "Steel Stars" rumbles along for over 10 minutes with molasses low end and different drones of sound and a touch of clicks. It then fades directly into the second track "Code," which goes into an almost ambient section at the beginning before again locking into a slow groove. Changing things up a bit, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of Low add almost chant-like vocals to the track, giving it a ghostly quality that works quite well.

In addition to the vocals, Nelson lets other more organic elements creep into the tracks in the form of pedal steel guitar (seeping through most noticibly on the beautiful "K. Luminate"), as well as the coronet playing of Rob Mazurek of the Chicago Underground Duo. "Double Rail" moves along with some more luscious bass and a light metallic ping of a beat, but the coronet sneaks around and into the track on several occassions, giving a vibrant feel to what would be a fairly cold-sounding track without it.

In the end, it's an interesting release if you're willing to give it some attention (as it's to steady to demand it). While several of the tracks on the release probably could have been shorter and not been hurt, one of the qualities of the release is its almost trancelike nature. Warm tones guide each and every track, providing a rich soundscape even if it isn't that complicated. Less cinematic and more rhythmic than Labradford, Nelson shows he's moving in different directions without stretching himself. I was one of the people paying attention at the show, though.

Rating: 7