6.16.2006

[Used Goods] Neutral : Font Translation Errors

"...I remember for a while just being so aware of the way everyone was sounding like Autechre, and everyone was on this 'technology is the god' battle of sorts: who ever can make the most glitchy, most fucked-up sounds will win the race..." --Nicole Elmer.



I hardly buy CDs anymore. With digital downloading in the driver's seat (of course, I would never *cough* ride in that car), I find the glamor of visiting record stores on a weekly basis something of the past...and something that is very, very missed. More often than not, I seek out the older stuff, often buying it used to try and keep the local record shops up and running. Take about an hour or so to peruse. Pick things up, put them down.

For Nicole Elmer aka Neutral's 2000 debut, Font Translation Errors, I had to go to amazon.com. Seeking out this particular album, I waded through the Neutral Milk Hotel albums to find what I was looking for - a vague recollection of the cover art's cartoonish and minimalist design helping me to find the right one. I'd only heard the album twice in my life, and I'd only half-listened, but something was welling up a need for it that had become unavoidable.

This is definitely a gem that's been lost in the void of time. Part of the Mad Monkey and Planet Mu label crowd, she's a lady of sarcasm and wit who held her own in the genre of IDM - one whose one interesting factoid is often overlooked: IDM is very much a boys-only club.

With the exception of Mira Calix on Warp (who is, actually, married to one half of Autechre) Records, I can name no other IDM women from memory. Ask me for men, though? Hold on, let me grab a pen and a few sheets of paper...

The album is ambient, but hard-hitting at times. Many of the main beats are thick, and there's a motherly tone to the underlying keyboard currents that carry the disjointed rhythms of samplers and programmers from one side of a track to the other. "Five" is very much in line with the kind of apex IDM was reaching in the late 90s, not dissimilar from the kind of legendary musical handiwork made by the likes of Plaid or Funkstorung.

"Hey Nicole, this is Austin. Here's a song I just wrote called 'Bil Keane'..." The voice on the answering machine starts hitting the keys on his phone at a sarcatic pace, eventually humming the title name. "That's all, love," and he hangs up. The samples quickly pick up into a blip hop shuffle, using the sounds of the message to create another six minutes of the track that wells and swells like a more laid-back version of Aphex Twin's "Bucephalous Bouncing Ball."

"I think the invention of the home computer and its evolution has opened a lot of doors for inventive musicians who were looking to do different things than kids were doing in the 60's up until the 90's really: following their favorite guitar idols."

She could be right. Now more than five years since her album's release, electronics have become a major part of other genres to open them up to new ways of writing. The keyboard has become the newest standard in the guitar/bass/drums rock band formula. IDM is about as dead as grunge, but there is still an ever-breathing underground scene that keeps the electronic inflections that pepper the mainstream constantly afloat.

Neutral - "I Love You A Lot"
Neutral - "Sinew"


1 comment:

MicLitter said...

She's long been a favorite of mine. I read recently she's switched to film. Hopefully we'll hear more from her, or at least more like her, as this is some very creative music.
I HATE THE TERM 'IDM'. When my last band got labeled that way, we thought it meant Industrial Dance Music. 'Intelligent Dance Music' is about the most frustratingly pretentious tag in the world, though.
After Font Translation Errors, I highly recommend "Caller I.D." "Driving Backwards" and "Motion Of". Most of it's pretty close to flawless.