Review: Phonat's Identity Theft EP
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Thursday, May 29th, 2014
by Warren Chi & Michael Mercer
Phonat has created a collection of tracks for the sonic adventurist, and it turns out to be a splendid audible journey.
From the first track to the last; the sounds ebb and flow, collide, mesh, slide and glide. The bass rips, the treble sparkles and the mids will not only test your Hi-fi’s resolution capabilities, but its ability to spring back without overhang before the next smack of a note/triggered sound.
This is true ear-candy for the headphone enthusiast that loves electronic music as much as we do.
Track 01: Machines Do Care (3:46)
Michael: “Machines Do Care” - the track title alone beckoned… I felt compelled to check this record out the moment I saw the artwork and read those words!
Thankfully, while it conjures images of studio machinery through wicked, seemingly reversed bass sweeps, manically triggered, panned vocal bits, and broken synth stabs, the composition flows effortlessly. It's two parts electronic madness, two parts space music wizardry.
A fantastic way to kick off an EP. I've come to expect nothing less from Audeze Ambassadors (such as Amon Tobin, Goldie, Noishia, Caylx, and other greats).
Warren: Right from the start, "Machines Do Care" struck me as a narrative - so much that I went ahead and filmed a whole music video for it in my mind, conjuring up an poignant backstory along the way.
It opens with a Cybertronian couple (probably Bumblebee and Arcee) having a frank and heartfelt conversation about their relationship. They've been arguing you see, and they're trying to figure out where it all went wrong (0:00 ~ 0:20).
Then a question of commitment is asked. Arcee wants to know why Bumblebee won't be her Conjunx Endura. That question lingers in the air as we cut to a montage of how Bumblebee and Arcee met, and fell into sweet, sweet machine love (0:21-1:29).
By 1:30, we snap back to the argument still-in-progress. Okay, this is obviously something serious because Arcee's gushing windshield wiper fluid by now. Maybe it's about Bumblebee always putting himself in danger? And doing so without considering what it would mean for their future together? But why would she be all bent out of shape about that? Unless...
Oh snap, so that's what it is! Bumblebee Jr. is on the way. She's gonna be Bumblebee's baby mama!
From 1:30 on, it just keeps escalating... and then it just ends, unresolved. Damn, I wanted to know if they worked it out. I hope they stay together and will be okay.
Track 02: All This Time (4:55)
Michael: After the bass pounding, synth-twisting grind of “Machines Don’t Care” Phonat showcases a rare attribute in electronic arrangers today: The keen awareness of space, and how to use the air between the notes/triggered sounds in a composition in order to create a grand sense of dimensionality. In “All This Time”, instead of dropping the bass hammer out the gate, keeping a massive swarm of low end energy moving the track, Phonat reels it back a bit.
The track begins with an early A.M. ambient vibe, followed by spacey piano licks and ascending vocal samples. The build is gradual and spacious, coming together, to form a sound that feels like a magnificent blend of futuristic r&b and minimal dubstep. Phonat finds the groove by casually setting the tone and the mood. He doesn't beat you over the head with pulverising kick drums, and seemingly figure out the rest of the track like some of the commercial fodder you hear today - where the artist seemingly hit the four-on-the-floor kick drum button and painted a soulless composition over that weak foundation.
Phonat's got electric soul, and that's evident throughout the remainder of the record. It's intelligent electronic music that seeps into you because it doesn't seem to flow from some empty space - catering to the masses. I'm not saying Phonat's music couldn't move a spot with fifteen thousand people. I'm saying it's clear he didn't write this EP with that as the goal: Making ends. He's done some wicked work here.
Warren: For me "All This Time" is all over the place, charmingly confused about what it wants to do. It's like watching a puppy trying to figure something out for itself.
It begins life as a sweeping ambient anthem, complete with cinematic aspirations as it employs a John Barryesque chord progression to get things started (0:00~0:39).
Then it takes a abrupt downtempo detour that Moby would be proud to call his own (0:40), before dropping the beat into a caramellowy chillout breakdown (1:26) that's reminiscent of something Chicane would do - only without so many happy-go-lucky major chords.
At 2:30, something else catches its eye. It gets a little glitchy and starts throwing a little bit of Haxan Cloak into the mix - a Haxan cape if you will. By 3:02, most of the previous motifs come together in a rondo to finish out the piece.
It's by no means a bad track, as it manages to be quite accessible at any given point in its meadering. But I can't help thinking that it's somehow overthinking, and a bit overreaching, in terms of trying to figure itself out.
Track 03: Don't Talk, Now (3:21)
Warren: Okay, I'm going to call it right now - Mercer is gonna LOVE this track. Betcha he's gonna go on and on about how chilled and laid-back it is... about how it's perfect to wind down with after an all-nighter or something like that. "Don't Talk, Now" has just the right blend of atmospheric groovyness, generously topped with ear candy sprinkles, as to be very Mercer-esque.
Michael: Like "Don't Talk, Now", the track's name sounds a lil' funny when you read it at first. But when you hear it, it's cosmic blues. It's minimal, atmospheric, and downright fun to lay back and crank it up. This is mood music for the rat raced out brain. It'll reset your spinning mind, if you can focus enough to take it all in. It's like an audible image of one of you favorite memories after staying up all night with a close friend. You end up on somebodies couch somewhere in the city. The musics' playing (something ambient, but drivy) and you share a glance at each other that requires no words. That's the vibe Phonats' managed to capture here, and that's no easy feat. I would also call this space music for the disenfranchised. Like a modern LP off the Hearts of Space catalog. Though it gets more funky than anything released on Hearts of Space.
Track 05: Ride the Prejudice (3:49)
Michael: "Ride the Prejudice" is a fine example of his futuristic electronic soul music that puts it beyond any one classification however. Sorry, sometimes the only way to describe something new to my ears is to relate it to older stuff we might know. Perhaps the best thing I can say about this track, and actually, this whole EP, is that it kept me movin' in my car and in my office. That beats the shit out of all my poetic musings!
Warren: Easily the most fun track of the entire EP. "Ride the Prejudice" might not infect you immediately with its slow intro, but it quickly reels you with an upbeat teaser (0:29) of the capriciousness to come. From there, you're hooked by the whimsical entrances and exits of sampled vocals and 8-bit soundbites. It's a groove, pure and simple, which leads us into...
Track 06: Identity Theft (4:09)
Warren: A post-coital wind-down, this EP's title track is - by far - my favorite of the entire album. "Identity Theft" serves as a great recap of all the previous tracks, in flavor if not in composition; and for that reason it should probably be the first and only track that you check out if you don't have time for a full listen.
From the found sounds, to the synth stabs and sweeps, to the sampled and auto-tuned vocals, and finally some 8-bit arpeggios, "Identity Theft" is laced with everything that came before it in true completionist fashion.
And while I would have preferred that "Identity Theft" be the first track on the album, I do understand why it must come last thematically. Curiously, I do get the sense that "Ride the Prejudice" and "Identity Theft" may have started out in life as a singular point of inspiration before musical genetics spliced them up. In fact, if you play the two tracks gaplessly, you can get a taste of what they might have been as two sides of the same coin.
Warren: I like this EP. It's unassuming enough to be enjoyable in the background, but also clever enough to reward active listening. Would I recommend it? Let me just say, it left me wishing that it was a full LP.
Michael: This EP moved me, and also made me smile during some rough patches recently. Perhaps that alone is enticing enough to check it out. Fans of experimental electronic music (that also sounds fantastic: Dynamic and airy) should check this out for sure. I haven't been able to stop listening to it daily for weeks. However you find it, on Spotify, MOG, Beatport or Google Play, Highly recommended.
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