Thursday, January 7, 2016

SETH GRAHAM
“No. 00 in Clean LIfe” C14
(Orange Milk Records)


 

Seth Graham is the co-founder of Orange Milk Records, so you can be confident that he knows his way around avant-garde composition. But where many in the Orange Milk stable of artists mask their pop inclinations in wild experimentalism, in the process rendering their releases way less “pop,” Graham takes a different approach, from pretty much the opposite end of that spectrum. Instead of building a foundation on funk or disco or krautrock and spiraling from there, he lays his groundwork on the solid footing of classical music to begin his experiments.

Which totally works for him, by the way, and allows me to give my brain a much-needed workout. And god knows it’s getting awfully flabby in there, as far as intellectual capacity goes. I can only hear the Jackson 5’s version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” so many times before it takes over my consciousness completely and I rupture something in its wake. (It’s Christmas radio season as I write this, if you hadn’t noticed.) Anyway, No. 00 in Clean Life is short, really short at fourteen minutes, and absolutely demands full attention. How are you going to let your mind wander over fourteen minutes anyway? There’s no excuse – you have to ask yourself really important questions, like, what’s Graham using as his instrumentation? Patches? Voice patches definitely, but we’ve got strings and woodwinds and other stuff cut the hell apart and sampled to maddening oblivion. But not maddening in a bad way – it’s the utter unpredictability of this tape that continues to compel me to hit rewind. I’ve listened to it a few times, and it still manages to surprise and excite.

“Fate in the Key of Raspberry” begins the tape with a horn blurp, then tensely ambients (a new verb!) its way through the speakers like the opening “fanfare” of Lost. Remember Lost? You all loved it, including its finale, just like me. Yeah, that show. But it’s a false beginning, as Graham destroys any preconceptions you may have had in those few seconds. I’ve found as I’ve listened that his use of silence within these pieces is nothing less than masterful, as he artfully places it within the short bursts of voice and synthesizer (and the other stuff, remember, I have no idea what he really used). The sound, moving around the corners of the silences, is accentuated, and every moment feels like a glittering arpeggio even if all you’re hearing is a brief snippet of tone. All of this lends a great sense of tension to the compositions, as if Graham has concocted a MIDI opera instead of your standard electronic EP. Nothing standard here. And if I haven’t mentioned it, and I know I haven’t because I can read what I’ve written, the editing is utterly top notch. I’m just … jaw dropped.

So, clean life, then. It’s not unusual to be inspired by music, as it can wriggle in to your conscious mind and settle in your subconscious, becoming part of your life in unexpected ways. With No. 00 in Clean Life, however, I think I’ve discovered the ground zero moment of actual personal renewal. I dare you to listen to “Touch--Dy,” all three minutes of it, and come out the other end the same person you were when you began it. It’s a holy experience (or at least a “Holy crap!” one), and one that makes perfect sense after completing it. I no longer feel like a novice, shuffling about on this planet with my hands in my pockets and a stupid grin on my face. No sir – I have a purpose now. I think Seth Graham is a secret Jedi master. (I just saw The Force Awakens, gimme a break.)




--Ryan Masteller

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