Although I'm a big fan of straight electronic music (in that all sounds are produced by machines), I've found that some of my favorite music over the course of the past couple years has been by those who have found a nice balance between electronic and organic instrumentation. Sure, there's an argument to be made that everything becomes electronic once it has been run through a computer or processed, but there's still a warmth in actual live instruments that for the most part still hasn't been replicated completely by machines.
A member of the group the Silver Apples during the 90's, Xian Hawkins is one of those artists like Múm, Four Tet, Greg Davis, Manitoba, and many others to use a subtle combination of sampled 'real' instruments and electronic ones to create a warm blend of what some (including myself) have started referring to as 'pastoral electronic.' While that name may simple conjure up images of cows and tractors for some, I equate it with steady rolling hills and smooth landscapes, the journey through which is facilitated by said music. It's corny, but it's better than throwing it under a blanket term of "electronica."
Although Placement Issues is actually comprised of tracks from different EP and single releases, you'd be hard pressed to figure it out upon listening to the release. Whereas many package deals are disjointed and jump all over the place, the 13 tracks and nearly an hour of music on this release actually flow better than most pre-planned albums. Opening with "Engaged" (a remix of which arrives later in the disc), the disc starts with a warm beat and subtle percussion, while a choppy guitar melody tangles with a floaty keyboard. "Without Nothing I'm You" follows it up with more loops of a couple different guitar melodies while an almost jazzy percussion pitter-patters behind.
For the most part, the album continues to glide along at a relatively mellow, mid-tempo pace, content with unoffensive beats and delicate melodies. "Lapsong" lopes along with another friendly beat while keyboard layers, string swells, and a touch of guitar shift like quiet plates over the top while "Invisible Magnetic Missive" pulses with a thick low end and some squirrelly sounds before breaking off into a lovely guitar melody.
While the steady pace of the album is one of the strengths, it's also one of the small beefs that I have with it. Although the tracks are all nicely programmed, a lot of the album drifts by without an edge. When tracks like "Unforced Force Of The Truth" (with it's louder, jangling guitars) and "Identity #2" (which closes the album with easily one of the best tracks on the disc, mixing a squelchy sample and horns with an impending, somewhat clangy beat) come along, it makes for a nice dynamic change that I wished would come around a little bit more often. Even at that, though, this is still an excellent release, and another artist that I'll be keeping an eye on. If you're into any of the above mentioned artists, or even the quieter side of Boards Of Canada, it might fit nicely into your collection.