By Mark Abraham | 18 July 2007
I wonder if Apparat is a fan of the Bedazzler, pinning rhinestones to his clothes with just the right je ne sais quoi to elevate a tired animal print sweatshirt to something magnificent, at least as far as the owner is concerned. Because it’s tempting to ignore the songcraft here in favor of the gorgeous production. Nobody does strings and beats and grainy synth patterns like Apparat, and every shift in tone and temper is a gut-wrenching sucker punch. The thing is, nobody actually likes animal print sweatshirts, right? And while some of the songs here are pretty fun, overall the biggest problem with Walls is that it spends to much time hinting at things you want it to be while never actually getting there.
Then again, there’s something to be said for the ability to elevate the innocuous to something transcendental. “Useless Information” might revolve around a boring chord progression, but revolve is all all of its component parts do, swirling and buzzing around the edges as if the chord progression is just an incidental by-product of the point of intersection where all these sounds meet. Opener “Not a Number” could be a pretty little mallet number if it weren’t for all the beautiful counterpoints nestled beneath the main theme. The problem is something like “Limelight” where Apparat plays hard with all of his grain delays, throws a quick handclap or two in, and muddles the only interesting part of the arrangement, which is a spitting sine wave that only really becomes audible in the closing moments of the song. Or “Holdon,” the hip hop blandtasies of the verse corralled by a chorus of lame flange frequencies and faux-Prince vocals. See, here’s the thing with indie takes on Prince—Prince already did indie-Prince and did it way better than anybody else on Dirty Mind (1980).
It’s a bit of this or that throughout, really; the success of each track is entirely dependent on whether the production is interesting enough to cloak the lacking intricacies of the songcraft. It’s a lot like post-rock in that sense; you know where these tracks are going, so any enjoyment relies entirely on the scenery you get to view on the way there. Something like “Fractales, Pt. 1” works because the sheer depth ensures you can reach into the track and pull out any number of interesting juxtapositions, and by the time it morphs into “Fractales, Pt. 2,” which reduces the giddy motion of the first half to Apparat’s stock in trade—a grainy string quartet bedding a light piano motif—you’ve been presented with any number of ways to view a simple melody.
The other way to tell which tracks are good: are there vocals? With the possible exception of “Birds,” nothing here has the feel good prosperity of “Leave Me Alone” from last year’s Ellen Allien collab Orchestra of Bubbles; “Birds” is mostly notable because the vocal is supported by a weird succession of noise that is just nice enough to keep you from focusing on the lukewarm Bjork sympathy of the melody. And “Arcadia” employs such an interesting melody—one compounded with soaring delayed vocals—that you might miss the obvious Radiohead quality, right down to the Yorkish intonation.
Apparat is a brilliant producer; he’s a so-so writer, copping bits from exactly who you might expect to give form and vibe to his music. Did he work so well on Orchestra of Bubbles because Allien’s sound is distinct itself? Walls says, “Probably.” Point being, Walls is a pretty, pretty album from a technical standpoint; I’m just not sure you’re going to find anything here that still moves you once the record ends.