The press release that accompanies Systems/Layers draws a great deal of attention to how it’s an audio piece of a much larger multimedia whole. I’d be willing to bet that while the completed work (with the theater group SITI) does flesh out a more fully realized vision, it’s likely that ninety percent of the people who listen to the album will never see the finished product. Systems/Layers doesn’t suffer in the slightest because of this and stands, on its own, as an excellent soundtrack to modern urban life.
The album isn’t comprised of “songs” as it is “movements” or “moments.” Instruments and rhythms gradually take to the forefront or sink quietly into the background, ushered around by field recordings of fan-submitted ambient city noises. It’s like walking a block of NYC and committing every sound heard to tape.
At times, the music reaches the stretched, suspended and ominous tone that peppers the Lost in Translation soundtrack. Languid cellos and strung out pianos on the two opening tracks (“Moscow is in the Telephone” and “Water from the Same Source”) set the stage for emotional isolation and searching hopefulness. Rachel’s lets the intimacy shine on a handful of tracks as the disc progresses, most notably on “Singing Bridge” with its big drums and the smoky, Portishead-esque beats of “And Keep Smiling.”
The aspect that strikes me most about this album though is how high class it feels. It feels like chamber music for metropolitan art galleries, too-trendy-for-words restaurants, or maybe even James Bond’s apartment on a Sunday morning. It’s hard to pin down exactly, but for me — a guy whose CD collection still (unfortunately) boasts Live and Stone Temple Pilots discs — it feels like I’m movin’ on up…