Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Biota - 'Invisible Map' (Recommended)

The artwork to 2001's followup to Object Holder reminds me somewhat of playing an old 320x200 game like Doom or Castle Wolfenstein 3-D. The music, well, it's actually a great deal clearer than Object Holder's mess. The same elements are there - deconstructed folk melodies driven by acoustic guitar and accordion, sweet female vocals popping up now and then, and chaotic, effected percussion. But there's just a tad bit more space between these elements, allowing a bit of light to shine through. I still find this an almost unbearable listen to manage in one sitting: 37 tracks, 76 minutes. Yow. These guys n' gals sure make the most of the CD format. The booklet is thick too, with page after page of digital artwork. The lead vocalist has changed to Genevieve Heistek, though she sounds a lot like the last one, and there's still only about six tracks with lyrics. The folk melodies are amplified a bit but now you can hear the details much more. The chaos under the melody of 'Port' is spastic, yet constrained, and it has a nice sound of prog-blueballs. I usually get sick of accordion when I listen to Biota, but 'Landless' is mixtape-perfect: His Name is Alive dipped in a Gallic marinade and hung out to dry with a swarm of aggressive insects. It's unfortunately just a bit too short. And in the lengthy instrumental middle of this record (20 tracks, in fact) we get a lot of styles. 'Sleeping Car' is made up of difficult intervals, sounding cold, Eastern and oblique yet bouncy and fun. 'Snake Out' is practically ecstatic, though still with effected drumming and spazzy acoustic strums everywhere. When the accordion returns, its a bit disappointing, but I am listening to my second 70+ minute Biota CD in a row. There's some real neoclassicisms here, which have made me rethink my standard line on Biota. Because, I like this band - I own three of their CDs plus the Mnemonists stuff, and generally think they're somewhat underrecognised, particuarly since song-based deconstruction has gotten some steam lately. But I've always been slightly hesistant to fully commit to Biota, because I thought they were too eclectic. Yeah, check it - I mean, I have (I think) diverse taste in music, and I think it's great if you can merge influences from 20th century classical, folk music, prog rock, pop, etc. I used to think that Biota were merging too many sounds and this is why I never could really click with them - they sound more like an encylopedia than a group of musicians expressing themselves through art. But listening now, I realise that's not so much the case. What really hurts Biota is that I don't think they conceptualise a 'record' the same way that I do - as a standalone canvas that can be used for various forms of expression, etc. The rules and format of that canvas may be unfortunately predetermined through a variety of nasty precedents, such as 60s rock music, economics, etc. -- but it still exists. And this is a record - perhaps I would enjoy them live more. Biota, I think, sees the CD as being a 75-80 minute receptacle for their recordings and thus they dump everything they can on there, not really thinking about how the listening experience plays out on the other end. For example, there are some lovely, delicate moments in the middle of this album - spooky piano textures, breathing silences, creeping strings, etc. The problem is, I don't even notice them because we're talking about tracks that are somewhere in the mid-20's out of 37 short pieces. I think someone could probably craft an entire release around a few of these tracks; it's all presentation, you know? But Biota, they just shove them in there among all the chum and deconstructed pop jams, so the impact is somewhat lessened. I think if this was 2 35-minute albums I listened to separately, I would 'hear' the music much more than I do now, because around track 17 I just started to glaze over it. Even if I listened to 2 35-minute albums back to back, I think I would hear them better. Because it's presentation; it's the canvas that really matters but the frame is important too. So there is my beef and that also explains why I'm going to say little about the second half of this record, apart from the parts with singing which stand out, especially 'Words Disappear' which is awesome. Because I wasn't really listening, due to the above mentioned philosophical disagreement. And also, enough is enough with putting effects on the drums!

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