There are those distinctive voices in popular music. Look at Mike City’s work on the last Brandy album, Rodney Jerkins, and usual suspects like The Neptunes or Timbaland, and you’ll have a pretty good idea about the state of affairs on radio and television. Gone are the hallmark lyrical metaphors and sloppy craft passed off as artistry, everything is entirely direct. Pop music is there for consumption and revelry, because life is hard anyway, let a little dose of euphoria grace your car speakers while you’re on the way to do something actually fun, or you know, work your shitty job.
It’s no wonder, then, why teeming throngs of experimental musicians are tugging at the panties of their 16-year-old girlfriends to jump on the pop/hip-hop bandwagon. We’ve got a tradition of autonomous, social-commentary-spouting mavericks to uphold, after all! Pay no attention to the 100+ people who work on a single album by a band like N’SYNC, because one Powerbook will do it all. And when I say all, I mean either make a cynical comment about the mindless commercial appeal of things like “melody” or demonstrate how much you really love mindless commercial appeal, even though you still read Derrida on the toilet.
When will these German dance producers just start pilfering Peter Gabriel riffs so that American and British audiences will finally grasp that pseudo-intellectual “glitch-house” is just prog rock at the turn of the millennium? You will be ashamed to own anything released by Mille Plateaux in twenty years, just mark my words.
So, here we are with the new Andreas Tilliander record, Elit, and about three paragraphs of opinionated polemical posturing, and it really isn’t as bad as all of that. There’s something about this music that gives the sense that if Tilliander were in Timbaland’s shoes, he might actually do a good job.
I don’t know which avant-gardist first identified that the self-congratulatory eclecticism and techno-referential proclivities of hip-hop wasn’t so different from “experimental” music, but I can name plenty of computer players who never managed to take the comparison any further than that.
Elit does, at its strongest points, feel like an instrumental hip-hop album with a distinct personal voice behind it. Where The Neptunes are known for their MIDI-laden, staggered beats, Elit shows Tilliander as an extension of Kraftwerkian electronic austerity, replete with manically filtered synths and crunchy clicks in place of hi-hats. There is still a certain aloofness to the whole affair, something that is particularly representative of the Mille Plateaux sound. The rhythms, which fall between hip-hop, dance, and noise, are subdued, the synthesizers are darkly ambient and atonal, and the music is a relatively joyless contrast to what is so specifically a format designed for pleasure-seeking youngsters. Yes, there is still a sense of bliss, but it’s far more subtle and hazy than anything you’ll hear on the radio.
So, I’ve explained why I think Elit is a nice album, and I don’t think most nice albums deserve to be defended, mediocrity seems to be the common denominator between artists these days. Elit is something a little off-center, but unfortunately it is off-center exactly in the ways that so many releases on Mille Plateaux have been. Elit has the same synths, same beats, and the same vague distant feeling (80 percent of Mille Plateaux releases sound somewhere in between riding a people mover in an airport and watching a car commercial… oh, and maybe throw some “drowning in an ocean” in there for good measure), but its just a little bit more above par than usual. There is a little less pretense, save for a track named “Kevin Shields,” and it goes a long way.
Mille Plateaux Records: http://www.mille-plateaux.com