Thursday, November 22, 2018

album review: 'cocoon crush' by objekt

Let's be honest, the vast majority of you don't remember when I reviewed Objekt last time. It's one of my least-viewed reviews - and considering how rarely I cover electronic music, that is saying something - and Objekt is obscure even by those standards, a German artist with the real name TJ Hertz that I found going through a Pitchfork deep dive. And given that my exposure to electronic music has been somewhat backwards in comparison with how one is 'supposed' to experience a genre - I started in the experimental stuff and worked my way towards conventionality - I still find it a bit surprising how much I wound up liking that debut. I'd struggle to call it great - Objekt might have an uncanny grasp of balancing out industrial malfunction with ambient tendencies but he tended to avoid a melodic core, which made engagement with his work tricky - but it was a fascinating listen and one that I did find myself revisiting whenever I was craving some darker techno.

So to hear buzz about Cocoon Crush, Objekt's follow-up this year, which was reportedly changing tactics for a more organic sound palette that was richer in melody... look, it's not like there wasn't precedent for this. The mechanical elements of Flatland always had the sparking warmth of metal that had experienced use, only further accentuated by the ghostly atmospherics, so I had reason to believe this could be a potent step in the right direction. So, what did we get with Cocoon Crush?

So here's the quandary with an album like this one: it would be very easy to put a project like this on the Trailing Edge and indeed I was tempted to - it's a decidedly weird, off-kilter electronic project which is much easier to admire than outright love. Easier to embrace than Flatland, but also more prickly and alien, the sort of grainy, glitchy, yet oddly organic and striking project that gets under your skin in a funny way. And yet it's hard to directly describe it - it builds off elements of Flatland but takes them into a damp, almost prehensile state where it feels like the album could skitter away at any second, and it's almost so unique that I wanted to put it on the Trailing Edge just to give it a bit more exposure. But the more listens I gave to it, the more I found myself really digging it, and I did promise that no album I considered great would land there... so here we are.

And here's the first quandary: like with Flatland, a significant part of this review will have to involve describing the sonic palette of this album - helped along by the fact that I know a fair bit more electronic music than I did in 2014, but even still, Objekt is not making this anything close to a conventional listen. Like the previous album, when we do get percussion elements they're textured and grainy enough to feel crisp and organic, but full of ratcheting, clicking, and clanking shudders, with '35' and 'Deadlock' showing the most obvious industrial inspiration. But where Flatland cast its impersonal gaze on that machinery in sputtering breakdown, Cocoon Crush seems to be infusing it with life in spasmodic places - the crisp but roiling spikes of percussion often accent a shuddering bass beat that sounds like an abandoned foundry has been animated and is taking its first uncertain steps. And these crunching rumbles of blown out bass, glitch, and noise aren't so much part of the groove as they are disruptions of it, blowing a mix apart like on 'Rest Yr Troubles Over Me' to leave a single high pitched frequency that keens and warps until the ambient melodies and gurgling synth grooves return. Or take the abrupt, quaking bass gurgles that sunder the mix on 'Runaway' with startling presence, or how on the closing song 'Lost and Found (Found Mix)' the song is shredded by glitch midway through so that the beauty of the melody can reform along with the steadier groove.

And if we're going to mark where Objekt strays from easy comparison, it is here. Yeah, the muted flutes, classical touches, and strange chords might recall a bit of Arca's work with Bjork, and the touches of hollow Japanese plucked strings on 'Dazzle Anew' and stuttered bubbles on 'Silica' might seem reminiscent of Visible Cloaks in its peculiar fusion of organic and synthetic, but Objekt's tact as a DJ and producer slips through and for as often as this mix will tear into lingering moments of ambiance or an increasingly claustrophobic jungle of whirs and burbles, he doesn't discount a foundation in the low end and a remarkable amount of poise in balancing these mixes, which means that the momentum is never compromised. He'll feel comfortable adding the techno elements amidst the experimentation, like the surprisingly sharp driving beat behind '35' or the synth loops that provide a stabilizing force on 'Secret Snake'. And for as occasionally discordant, ambient or just plain odd as some of these melodic flourishes might be, from what sounds like a marimba cascading through scales on 'Dazzle Anew' to the piano touches on 'Runaway', they add a remarkable amount of weird character to the organic machinery of Objekt's percussion. What felt distant or unknowable about the crashing mechanisms of Flatland feels much closer and accessible - almost too close, like the creeping dread of insects or spiders of all sizes crawling around you. But dread isn't the right word here - more almost benign, where like nature it'll move and coexist without the listener and where quaking machinery must adapt to a new, more organic paradigm.

And as with a lot of this weirder side of electronic music, it's hard for me to pick out missteps, but I could make the case for a few. For one, there are traces of recognizable vocals that break out of '35' - honestly, to keep the more naturalistic framing, I would have skipped this altogether, as I'm not sure they do enough to aid any thematic arc. And while Objekt has said this album focuses on 'themes of human interaction' and 'complex moods in sometimes turbulent personal experience', you'd be forgiven for missing that - if he's getting that human interaction demands subtlety, can frequently be uncomfortable in strange ways, and above all else you're existing in a larger, uncaring but mostly benign world... eh, I can see that, but it is pretty oblique. Beyond that... eh, there are a few passages I didn't quite like all the way through - 'Another Knot' feels overstuffed for its short runtime and never quite pays off its abortive crescendo, some of the melodic cacophony on 'Dazzle Anew' didn't click as much as I was hoping, and for as much as I was hoping the burbling cracks of 'Silica' would crystallize some form of melody, it didn't quite land off its stumbling groove.

But as a whole... look, like any Objekt album, I can emphatically say that this is not for everyone. But at the same time, this takes the iron bones of Flatland and adds a lot of meat to it while still maintaining its own distinctive identity, drawing parallels to other experimental electronica and often doing similar sounds even better. It's unlike the vast majority of what you'll hear this year, and while it'll definitely take a while to acclimatize to the weird pivots, for me it's a light 8/10 and if you're a fan of experimental electronic music, this is definitely worth your time - check this out.

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