LITHOPS: Ye Viols! (Thrill Jockey)


Posted on Feb 11th 2009 01:41 am

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Lithops: Ye Viols!

Ye Viols!
Thrill Jockey 2009
11 Tracks. 45mins28secs

When done properly, live collaborations between visual and audio artists are something special, possessed of the irreplaceable energy of a multi-sensuous experience grabbing the participant. Divorced not only of its live setting, but further of its visual aid, it’s a gamble as to whether the music will be merit its own, isolated appreciation. Jan St. Werner, half of ever-evolving electronic duo Mouse On Mars, takes such a chance by releasing Ye Viols!, a collection of his solo works meant to soundtrack visual artworks, released under his Lithops moniker.

To begin with, Ye Viols! is more experimental than anything from Mouse On Mars. Think of Autechre’s drone-heavy collaborations with The Hafler Trio, then add some glitches and the occasional beat, and a bit more silence, and you’ll have a decent idea of what this record sounds like. Whether it’s of interest to the casual Mouse On Mars fan is up for debate, but it’s a long way from Wipe That Sound in terms of instant gratification. But, gratification is there – Werner just expects us to use our brains more, and work for it. Witness Penrose Ave, a selection unified by one incessant drone, with sparks of what sound like horns and bowed strings flying out left and right. It’s an intense, engaging piece, and unlike other, more ambient works intended to gently soundtrack everyday life, Ye Viols! grabs the listener pretty hard and demands specific moods to fit its agenda.

Yet, Ye Viols! can’t help but feel like less than a proper album. On tracks like Bacchus, the emptiness is noticeable, as Werner sounds like he’s purposefully holding himself back (and, I might add, struggling to do so) for the sake of giving room to a visual counterpart. It’s tempting to look up all the works referenced in the liner notes to Ye Viols!, but it’s an audio release, and should thus be approached and judged as such. Even without the knowledge that these pieces were composed with the intent to score, the degree of musical restraint on tracks like Bacchus or the sparse, grating In Nitro sound like there’s a missing piece we’re not hearing (or seeing).

Luckily, the greater majority of Ye Viols! works on its own, as an exploration of Werner’s more experimental tendencies in a more experiential medium. Having been designed with a performance and an audience in mind, parts of Ye Viols! feel strangely personal, as Handed evokes a celebratory gathering of close personal friends, while Wammo is reminiscent of the more vulnerable and volatile moments of ambient mainstays Fennesz and Tim Hecker. Additionally, there’s a live feel to much of the material here. Whether that’s representative of live recording, or simply a penchant for DSP reverberation, I can’t say, but Graf and Indutech both feature distant sound signatures that suggest a live and improvisational setting. While Indutech possesses the basic foundations of one of Mouse On Mars’ glitch rhythms, it refuses to coalesce into a pattern until the final thirty seconds, spending much of the track popping around unexpectedly.

Mouse On Mars fans are likely to see Lithops are a vanity indulgence of Werner’s; a diversion until the next MoM LP. And, frankly, they’re right. As much as Ye Viols! is studded with moments of ambient beauty and rich, crunchy clicks and cuts textures, it never feels like a unified statement, or like a finished work, but rather a document of Werner’s exploration into purposefully making pieces that are as far from pop music as possible. Fans of more avant-garde ambient and glitch may cotton easier to Ye Viols!, and it is, perhaps, best approached as a playful little experiment.


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