Taylor Deupree, January

Spekk
Released: 2004

Taylor Deupree is probably the most significant name in American experimental electronic music. His label, 12k, is one of the only sure bets in the entire world of experimental music, and his own work has been in the vanguard of electronic music since the early 90s. However, with that kind of resume comes high expectations for each new release. Is his latest, January , released on the new Japanese label Spekk, worthy of a high place in Deupree's catalogue?

 

While preparing to write this review (and to answer that question), I went back and listened to every Taylor Deupree album I have in my catalogue. Deupree's a prodigious artist, having released dozens of works over the past fifteen years, so it took a while to get through everything. However, I learned a lot. I learned that, among other things, Deupree's music is remarkably consistent. There's hardly a bad track among the ten or so albums of his that I own. However, there's a downside to that sort of consistency: repetition. A lot of his music-especially the more recent works-sound awfully similar to one another. Now, I'd be the first to say that I'd rather listen to ten good but similar albums than listen to ten mediocre but diverse albums. So I'd rather listen to Taylor Deupree's January than just about anything else released in the month of January this year. But I still can't escape the nagging impression that I've heard this music before.

 

January is a delicate, stretchy work, consisting of four rather long (eight to fifteen minute) tracks and one relatively brief (six minute) one. Each track begins as an incredibly simple repeating loop ("Skimming") or an incredibly elongated note ("Shibuya_9"). Over the course of each track, that simple foundation is subtly modified by stray noises or overnotes (if there are such things), but the fundamental, core sound is always present and (nearly) always dominant. Deupree used this same formula on his 2002 release, .Stil . That earlier work twisted the foundational sounds more severely, using digital decay and fractured bits to color long passages of emotional, haunting sounds. That's basically what January is doing, as well, except that here, the focus is less on glitches and more on stretching simple sounds to their breaking point. To me, this is a bit less compelling, but it's still pretty impressive.

 

The only real detour from this basic foundation is the inclusion of shimmering, fragmented vocal sounds that appear in two different tracks, "Img_0083" and "Midlight." Actually, it's hard to call these things vocals in the strict sense; they are tiny fragments of what seem like human voices, and they flutter together to create not the sense of human speech but the sense of human speech as it reverberates through a jagged, echoing canyon. The effect of these flutters is unsettling. They appear in the middle of these songs and slowly build up until they have merged with the long, strung-out core notes. As the sounds merge, they become less identifiable as human sounds and more identifiable as weird, alien noises. In other words, the human-like sounds build until they become part of the larger, more surreal universe of electronic noise. It's a bit freaky.

 

And this album is a bit freaky. As I said, it's very good-high quality electronic music, to be sure. But it does remind me a bit too much of earlier Deupree albums, especially .Stil . And I don't think it's quite as good as .Stil , either-or, for that matter, Deupree's Balance , Occur and .N -though it is better than Polr , Tower of Winds , and Post_Piano . So put it in the middle of the Deupree collection; considering how good that collection is, I'd say that's pretty high praise.

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