Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Three Cheers For Self-Indulgence!

Max Tundra - Parallax Error Beheads You (Domino, 2008)

We’ve been waiting for six long years for Ben Jacobs to follow-up the exquisite ‘Mastered By Guy At The Exchange’ but now we finally have another helping of his ingeniously quirky electro. ‘Parallax Error Beheads You’ is an irony-laden confection, full of unpredictable twists and turbulent, spasmodic rhythms. It’s something you will either find unbearably grating or frantically, deliriously entertaining.

Jacobs has a penchant for synth sounds that might well sound dated or even irrelevant in any other context (‘The Entertainment’ isn’t all that far from 2 Unlimited if we’re honest). Luckily, he’s also crafted his own fiendishly intricate editing and compositional process (everything is produced on an outmoded Amiga), which subordinates some of his more questionable tastes to a broader musical intuition. Jacobs also has the kind of silky, saccharine voice that makes this irreverent subversion of pop completely irresistible. He shares the subdued softness of Green Gartside.

Jacobs’ elaborate, unstoppable music works in much the same way as the writing of the late great David Foster Wallace (indeed titling one song ‘The Entertainment’ suggests he may have immersed himself in Wallace’s magnum opus ‘Infinite Jest’). It’s restless, indulgent and, at least on the surface, chaotic and random – but it’s also insightful, richly humorous and based on its own unique systems. There’s a sense here that no volume of ideas is ever too much – that this music can be extravagantly dense and still somehow mesmerising. With the added element of self-deprecating comedy, Max Tundra comes across as something like an electronic Frank Zappa.

I’m most drawn to the tracks where the melodies are as imaginative as the glitchy, unpredictable rhythms in the backing tracks. The bouncy ‘Which Song’ comes with barrels of charm and is the closest Jacobs comes here to replicating the classic Scritti Politti sound. ‘Number Our Days’ somehow manages to make nihilism sound cheery, whilst ‘Glycaemic Index Blues’ veers out on numerous stimulating tangents.

The self-mocking lyrics match the twitchy neuroses of the music. ‘Will Get Fooled Again’, a rapid, overheated dissection of online relationships (‘I met the girl on Google Image Search/She was in the background of a picture of a church’) sounds so nervous that it might explode. Elsewhere, there’s plenty of quasi-geeky ruminations on lack of success with women and perennial singledom. One song is even an ode of love to his keyboard (‘Nord Lead Three’ – it’s good to know he’s got good taste).

The epic 11-minute finale ‘Until We Die’ is utterly shameless in owing as much of a debt to ELO as Squarepusher. It has some of the archness of Daft Punk’s ‘Discovery’ album. Its languid mid-section is also the only point on ‘Parallax Error…’ where Jacobs allows the intense pace to dissipate a little, and for some space to creep in. But even this is rendered in an asymmetrical time signature.

It’s hard to believe that an album that indulges its creator’s every whim could possibly be quite as enjoyable as ‘Parallax Error…’ undoubtedly is. It is a rampant, near-rabid document of a frenzied mind that seemingly cannot be contained. Hearing these outpourings is like death by chocolate.

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