(Absolutely Kosher; 2009)
By Conrad Amenta | 18 March 2009
It’s strange that the authors of last year’s unhurried, expansive In Flesh Tones would release a follow-up effort—albeit an EP—that sounds so busy and insecure, so seemingly intent on convincing its audience of the validity, or at least the deluge, of its ideas. One wonders if Tones‘ ensuing tour set a creative fire beneath their feet so furious it also ate up the process of self-editing, or was so discouraging as to suggest that they’d be better off blending in with the rest of the ambient techno’s now-recognizable signifiers.
That’s not easy for me to say, and don’t mistake the frankness for flippancy. In Flesh Tones was my favorite album of last year, and its bipartite delicacy and jaggedness is as relevant to my ears today as it was when I first listened. Or maybe there’s a reason this material, not without interesting ideas but also having not fully ironed out its many intentional kinks, finds itself relegated to an EP, just four new songs and four remixes deep. But then I read that Azeda Booth have moved from a quintet to a three piece, two of their band members departing so as to dedicate their time to that other great Calgarian band, Women, and it makes me worry that this is the sound of a band declaring new sounds in the absence of an old and now impossible formula.
There are still vestiges of that band that was so interested in contrast rather than density, such as on “Neonate,” which incorporates fractal ambience in its last minute-and-a-half of its contrapuntal glitch. However, the band’s two primary strengths, which were on ample display throughout Tones, were its use of traditional rhythm instrumentation in non-traditional arrangements and Jordon Hossack’s voice twinged androgynous. Gone is the sound of a strategically placed crash cymbal, of a rolling wave of toms, replaced with the flicker of insect-legs electronics; the rhythm is all over the place on Tubtrek, seemingly crawling from every dark corner, but its individual sounds are insubstantial.
The remixes subject four songs from Tones to Booth’s new emphasis on tightly interlocked IDM, allowing ghostly remains of guitars to appear before sweeping them away with motion and tempo, pulling Hossack’s voice down from its once stratospheric bandwidth. As a bridge between Tones and whatever new incarnation the band will take on their next full length, I can think of no more symbolic gesture; remixes that busy up more traditional pop songs are nothing new, but fans of their debut will be curious to hear that process applied by an aesthetic adopted or imposed by the band themselves. The “Secret Mommy remix” of the once lovely “Big Fists” illustrates perfectly the tendency of a remixer to think that turning a song’s central dynamic on its end is more interesting than to show how the same destination can be reached via only a mildly divergent path.
I’d be remiss not to mention that Tubtrek is a free download, surely worth the time that will take to reach your desktop, and Azeda Booth a band well worth keeping an eye on. Though lacking the graceful ease with which their album landed last year, Tubtrek may be the sound of a talented, perhaps (dare I suggest it?) visionary band temporarily stranding itself on curious new ice floes. The process is supposed to be a messy one. Perhaps, having already slam dunked their debut, Tubtrek is setting paces for a surprising, accomplished feat by a band for whom elegance comes easy.