October 17, 2003

Black Moth Super Rainbow "Falling Through A Field"

I think that Boards of Canada’s (otherwise brilliant) album Geogaddi was the first album ever to give me motion sickness. I mean, they slathered a thick syrup of slow vibrato on top of EVERY instrument on that record. I checked my turntable more than once to see if I was listening to a warped record. What makes it even stranger was that I was listening to a CD at the time. (Cue cymbal crash and laugh track) After more than an hour of listening to such pitch-imperfect music, I ran for the nearest bucket and puked my guts out. Of course, this entire paragraph is an exaggeration, but let it suffice to say that the Boards’ vibrato overkill resulted in some of the dizziest music to come along since My Bloody Valentine’s heyday. It was just a matter of time before a rock band came along and took back the wooziness that BOC stole from the genre. Then again, I’d hesitate to call Black Moth Super Rainbow a rock band.

In essence, BMSR is just two Pennsylvanian brothers and a friend using guitars, keyboards, samples, and electronics to make their own psychedelic stew. Yes, they use guitars and vocals, but these instruments aren’t prominent enough to place the music squarely in the rock genre. Yes, they use samples and electronics, and they run EVERYTHING through Boards-style vibrato, but that’s where the similarities to current IDM end. There isn’t much DSP involved, unless you count the weird cello sounds in “Dandelion Graves.” The textures are warm and nubbly, as if it the songs were recorded to analog four-track. The samples are out of sync with each other, just enough to suggest that they were triggered manually. All of this suggests that BMSR hover around the gray area between lo-fi indie-rock and soft IDM --- unless you want me to be like your average rock critic and make up a genre of my own, such as “melancholy pastoral funk.”

Honestly, though, “melancholy pastoral funk” describes the record to a tee. The drums on these songs, whether real or programmed, are consistently retro and funky. Whoever was responsible for the rhythmic elements of this record undoubtedly has a nice collection of “rare grooves” in his library. When the vocals do come in, they sound like the croaking whispers that Dean Wilson contributed to his Illyah Kuryahkin recordings (speaking of such, if you haven’t bought his Arena Rock Recording Company album Count No Count, do so; it’s a long-lost “lo-fi” classic). The vocals are even more despondent than Wilson’s are, though; it’s as if the singer doesn’t even have the energy to project his voice in order to hit the notes. When you can make out the words, they’re usually lamentations like “I don’t want to live through winter/I can’t stand to see everything ending” (from “I Think It’s Beautiful That You’re 256 Colors Too”). Otherwise, the vocals are run through so much hiss and compression that they sound like they were recorded in the middle of a traffic jam. They work nicely as sound effects, but I’m glad that they’re only employed every three or four songs or so.

Otherwise, Black Moth Super Rainbow gets most of its musical mileage from the art of contrast. Unrelentingly bouncy music is juxtaposed with depressing lyrics, and the synthesizer sounds range from cute and dinky to harsh and distorted. On songs such as “Your Doppelganger” and the appropriately named “Last House in the Enchanted Forest,” instruments fade in and out at random, as if the songs are holograms being shifted from left and right to view different angles. One minute the drums are up front, the next minute they sound like they’re in the next room as the keyboards assert themselves. This attention to detail, as well as the brevity of their songs (most are under three minutes) keeps BMSR’s music from getting boring over the course of a full-length, despite the admittedly limited sonic palette.

If you ever wondered what a collaboration between Illyah Kuryahkin and Boards of Canada would sound like (though I’m pretty sure that no one has), Falling Through a Field is it. This is the first I’ve heard of them, but apparently they’ve been self-releasing material for years. You can obtain some of it directly from their website, and I definitely encourage you to!

---Sean Padilla

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