Sifting through a pile of new releases at Contact Towers is mostly fun, but occasionally can become a bit of a drag. By the time the fifth boy/girl combo of the afternoon are on the communal stereo - with an accompanying bio dutifully name checking Revered Dead Folkie (Uh-huh), Nearly Dead Revered American Folkie (Really?) and Very Much Living But Apparently Unrelated Band (Nope) - our enthusiasm can wear a little thin. The truth is that in this homogenized musical world, the standout releases often come from mavericks, the sort of auteurs who can take a familiar pattern and subvert it gloriously, artists like Robin Pecknold or Abel Tesfaye who are only happy it seems when reinventing the forms which they grew up with, using their own individualistic rules.
A case could be made for electronic pop as being stuck in a similarly unproductive rut, a decade or so since its eighties inspired shtick jumped across the tracks from cheese-locked School Disco back into the mainstream. Since then, it's fluctuated wildly in quality, always listenable but with few acts doing anything really interesting in, as label suits would call it "The space".
Step forward New Zealander Kody Neilsen, former lead singer of critically acclaimed punk (ish) four piece The Mint Chicks. From relatively modest beginnings, the Chicks evolved into utilising a similar (But not the same) conform to deform take to mangling the mainstream as our own Everything Everything, before a messy 2010 implosion left brother Ruben fronting The Unknown Mortal Orchestra. With a mind full of ideas, Neilsen's only option was to go solo as an outlet, firstly in the guise of sixties-hugging Oppossom, then via a spell under his own name, before we now reach his latest alias Silicon. Phew.
Taking the inspiration for this new identity from the idea that the 21st century id is most likely to be stored on the memory chip of a machine, Neilsen began the process which led to 'Personal Computer' by painting its artwork - large, rudimentary expressions, only graduated by their different colours - before working the songs organically using an old Roland and with minimal use of sequencing or software.
The result is a brief but enthralling trip into one man's vision of the future as the past, full of quirk but direct, stripped of pretense and as listenable as it's cerebral. The titular opener, with it's broken Speak N' Spell intro leading to a bittersweet, desultory story of technology as confidante and soul mate is bathed in warm, understated melodies, whilst the sweeping funk of 'God Emoji' is as louche as it's delectable. Perhaps the distinct lack of hubris is due to the recording process - which largely took place in Nielsen's lounge - or equally the mindset of its chief architect, who made songs firstly for himself to listen to before imagining them in the hands of any real audience.
Or maybe that's a little bit of an old muso's tale. One of many exhibits for the prosecution here is 'Burning Sugar', the singer's lovely falsetto lilting soulfully over a jamming riff and busy programming: A potential club monster? Put into the right hands yes, and not much here resembles the idiosyncratic mess you might expect from someone just filling up their own headphones. It's much the same ear-pleasing story on 'Love Peace', an apparent homage for the languid Californian haze of peak-era Steely Dan, whilst to the ultra lo-fi r&b of 'Dope' his weird, intonation-free voice quietly recites an ode to nagging self doubt and the implacable menace of fuzzy logic and programming.
In the interim between the Mint Chicks dissolution and now Nielsen has become a father: in some ways a failure to exchange with the all or nothing blight of progress is very much the place of a man with new responsibilities thrust upon him in the bewildering new millennium. Only once (On the dazzling sixty eight seconds of perfect J-Pop that is 'Little Dancing Baby') does his inbuilt desire to splatter art over symmetry emerge: when it does, however, the synthesis is once more near perfect. That someone so mindful of the perils of the always on, always exposed price we pay for being in the now can make such a soothing lullaby to it all is remarkable: unstoppable, industrial strength paranoia has never sounded this good.
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