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(Thrill Jockey)

It was just about a half decade ago that one Mister Markus Popp got much of the credit for starting what was then a real movement in electronic music towards encorporating mistakes into the texture of sound. As Oval, you could even probably go so far as calling Popp the grandfather of glitch, as his notorious skipping CD noises (caused by everything from markers to scratches) soon found themselves in not only his compositions, but those of hundreds of other artists. Although I never did quite fall in love with the entire aesthetic, I found real value when artists could use it to unique or even dizzying effect.

The last I'd heard from Popp was his Ovalcommers release (that left me pretty cold), but So finds him collaborating Eriko Toyoda, and although the release is absolutely buried in noise and distortion, it's the humanity in both voice and actual instruments that seem to have breathed new life into this project.

Entering into So is literally like stepping into a warped world where everything appears hand-drawn in front of your face as you move. It might just be the cover art by Katsumi Yokota making me feel this way, but when I listen to So, I half expect my vision to start breaking apart and start resembling Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2). Rough edges are made a little more sketchlike, and soft edges are given a shifty texture that leaves almost everything in sort of a shaky realm where motion is captured in sound. That's not to say that the music itself feels incomplete (although the duo admits to mixing and reworking the album up until 10 minutes before the Fedex guy came for the master CD), just that the release is truly unique in both tone and texture.

10 un-named tracks pass by in just over 40 minutes, and although there are distinctions between most of the tracks, they really only serve as slight breakpoints in an overall composition. The disc opens with harshly filtered electronics blending with what sounds like both pan flutes and vocals, and the whole thing swirls upwards until the tweeters in your speakers sound like they will rupture. Eventually, it all drops off and leaves only a filtered vocal before slowly adding more grainy noise.

And that's really how it goes for just about the entire release. There are moments where real beauty shines through, as on the nearly straight vocals at the beginning of track two, but that is soon overtaken with warbling electronic pulses before again drifting off into a warm ambience punctuated by a quiet melody. At times it's so dense that you can't count the number of layers and filters, and at others it quiets down to one organic element. This is one of those releases that's definitely not for everyone, as it's not very musical, instead content to create a textural soundscape of ebbing and flowing sounds that are probably unlike what you've heard anywhere else. It's not something I'll listen to all the time, but when I want to look at the world through surrealist eyes.

Rating: 7