OVAL: O (Thrill Jockey)


Posted on Sep 15th 2010 01:36 am

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Oval: O

Thrill Jockey 2010
70 Tracks. 112mins37secs

Amazon UK: CD | LP US: CD | LP | DLD Boomkat: CD | LP iTunes: DLD

It has been ten years since Markus Popp was heard of last. Once a purveyor of fine complex electronic music, it appeared that the project, which he founded with Sebastian Oschatz and Frank Metzger in Darmstadt, Germany in the early nineties and had been solely leading since 1996, had dried up. Virtually nothing had been heard from the man since his 2001 album Ovalcommers. Furthermore, his other projects, Microstoria, a collaboration with Mouse On Mars’s Jan St. Werner, and So, the duo he formed with Japanese vocalist Eriko Toyoda, also remained inactive during that period.

Originally, Oval was overtly electronic and experimental, a terrain upon which raw abstract formations flourished. In their first few years, Popp, Oschatz and Metzger redefined what electronic music was about through a series of groundbreaking albums. Once sole on board, Popp continued his exploratory work, documented on a series of releases of which Ovalprocess (2000) and Ovalcommers (2001), both published on Thrill Jockey, are outstanding examples.

In 2010, Oval is a very different affair. Gone are the abrasive textures, overlapping soundscapes and distorted beats. The music is still extremely fragmented, but here, Popp uses acoustic sounds as main components, collating them into particularly short and dense vignettes. The recent Oh EP, which collected fifteen tracks spread over twenty five minutes, served to introduce this much more delicate and fragile sound. The mammoth enterprise that is O is a much more challenging project altogether. With seventy track spread over two discs and nearly two hours, there is plenty to appease even the biggest appetite. The tracks featured on the first disc, twenty of them, are by far the most accomplished. While some tracks barely go over the minute mark, others are developed much more comprehensively, at times around a core set of sounds placed as to evoke some odd band formation, at others focussing on miniature melodic themes served by intricate orchestrations and processing. The widespread use of acoustic sound source, ranging from various plucked string instruments to live drums and organ, give some of these compositions a great sense of space, while hinting at much more intimate settings on others.

The second disc collects much more volatile and ephemeral pieces. Sounding like fragments of compositions, sonic scraps assembled with no particular plan or order, these often develop over just a few seconds before fading away without trace, replaced by similar formations again and again. It is not clear whether these were conceived as simple sonic interludes, as fragments of more established compositions, or as entirely random elements, destined to be shuffled through haphazardly, and they can very much be appreciated equally whatever the intention.

The problem with this album, especially its second half, is its overall uniformity. With very little to differentiate one track from another, they end up merging into one another, blurring any edge or reference point in the record, diluting them more and more as the album progresses. One rapidly loses any bearing here, and while this may well be part of the plan, this album eventually feels quite overwhelming and doesn’t entirely work. Despite this and the radically different angle characterizing this record, it is clear that Popp has lost none of his incredible dexterity with sounds and ambiences, and his visionary approach remain as sharp as ever.


Oval (MySpace) | Thrill Jockey
Amazon UK: CD | LP US: CD | LP | DLD Boomkat: CD | LP iTunes: DLD

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