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Electric Company: Creative Playthings

 
Brad Laner's Electric Company has released it's tenth album in ten years, a collection called Creative Playthings for Kid606's edgy Tigerbeat6 Records. Laner, who also fronts the pop band Medicine, has put Electric Company releases out on a bunch of labels including Planet MU, Carpark, Island and American. This full length, which we have been playing day after day at betterPropaganda world headquarters, would mix well with artful Euro techno pop acts like Mouse on Mars, Air or Octet.

Various press materials for Electric Company point in every direction via mangled misinformation. One bio tries to explain it all in garbled artificial intelligence flavored syntax: "For beyond, Laner collaborated with the members circumlocution compatible of mercury of groups and the organization of stilts, and registered in such a way as to render all future works unsafe for listening." Another explains that it's all Beverly Hills and Lloyds of London and Michael Bolton and On-Broadway: oh yeah like sure dude for real.

To Tigerbeat6 ears, this is pure pop music. To the rest of us, it's delightfully oddball electronica with intermittent voices and mutilated guitar loops. Track runtimes and sugary structures suggest pop songs; but you'd have to be one of those folks who can't tell the difference between Sonic Youth and Abba to confuse this with pop. While definitely not anywhwere near Justin Timberlake territory, it also steers clear of the manic breakbeat glissandos and pixelcore distortions the TB6 catalog is known for. Melodically there are a lot of impressive things going on, especially in how memorable and downright hummable the predominently instrumental passages are. String arrangements in songs like "Theme from the Mushroom Shaped Tongue" might indeed be suitable for a pop band like The Silent League or Blonde Redhead; but the album as a whole avoids any dense vocal arrangements or lyrical storytelling one would expect from pop music. At other times, as in "Is There Another Door to Door?" a simple repetitive guitar lead evocative of the earliest Pink Floyd or The Yardbirds' "Over Under Sideways Down" holds the musical space over the beats. "The Purveyor of Delusion" makes excellent use of distorted, ringy and toothy synth tones.

Laner's guitar playing is pretty cool. Heavily processed, it's sometimes hard to tell what's guitar and what's synth. His sensibilities are more music box than technical; don't expect to be wowed by fancy leads and arpeggios- which show up here and there- but by his choice in when where and how the guitar appears and then how that gets stuck in your head. Most of the time it feels like you're listening to straight up IDMish downtempo stuff full of synthesizers, while sometimes the guitar squeals into prominence before just as abruptly disappearing. It's almost like Laner's got a collection of Mark Knopfler licks from Dire Straits sessions to put into his sampler, but it's Brad himself on the six string.

Vocally, this is a very subdued approach; voices appear in less-than-haiku-sized snippets, sung or hummed gently, processed severely, possibly repeating before disappearing into a sea of digital expressions. Most of the time the vocals seem like random samples; it's easy to forget this artist has its own singer, and even harder to remember any of the actual lyrics. The voice may as well be another super cool plug-in, some obscure new software that was difficult to install.

The short songs always leave me wanting more. The turn on a dime changes and pauses make me think the cd player is broken. Even cooler, there are fully a dozen bonus mp3s on a data track on the cd I didn't discover until I was nearly finished writing this review. One is a 19 minute experimental live jam recorded in late 1998. Others are piano or acoustic guitar-based 30 second clips that may very well be rejects for commerical scores. The other bits are all over the place and raw, the artist's sketchpad noodlings. Most extreme is "ooooooooooo.mp3" which sounds like the negative space from a female vocal track- for two minutes you hear the chair squeaks and breaths between syllables but no actual singing. Overall, with Creative Playthings, it's like transcribing a strange dream you just can't remember but are lucky enough to play over and over. Like the cryptic press materials suggest, "Critical medicine gained the compliment of alternative for the its extreme interpretation of my popular pocket revolution."

Terbo Ted

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Electric Company
song:Early Teeth
album:Creative Playthings (Tigerbeat…
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