Apophenia is one heck of a schizophrenic album. At 70 minutes, it’s long enough to be two albums: an ambient album in the Rhian Sheehan vein, and an experimental album in the electronic vein. But this makes sense in light of the title’s definition: “the experience of seeing meaningful patterns or connections in random or meaningless data”. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) Whenever the album begins to get into a groove, something unusual happens to throw the listener off course. This works both for and against the album as a whole; the variety is welcome, but the track order needs adjustment.
The first album within the album is the more effective one, and the first one we hear. “2222″ begins with an appealing guitar melody, and is soon joined by glockenspiel; but at 1:41 the drums and swooshes arrive and the guitars swoon. A dive occurs at 2:25, followed by a return to the opening sounds. A minute later, back to the beat. Network Lab‘s plan is to farm these tracks out to various video producers in hopes of developing a multi-media festival product, and this is exactly the sort of track that works best in that format. One can easily imagine “2222″ being the soundtrack to a short time lapse film featured on Vimeo. The tracks that work well in this vein (1, 2, 4, 7, 10, 11, 12, 15, and to a lesser extent, 8) possess a comforting sheen, occasionally exploding into euphoria. Yet Network Lab is not afraid to add crunchy textures (“Animals outside”), sweet stutters (“Waiting for something to happen”) or even burlesque piano (“Cloud faces”). The best of these pieces is the deep and dramatic “Supraliminal”, which begins ever-so-gently before introducing a double surprise: thrilling strings and thunderous bass-like synths (or perhaps a synth-like bass). Unexpectedly, the piece retreats into ambience and field recordings, a pleasant thwarting of expectations.
On the second album within the album, things get weird. Here we find a pattern piece (“A colony of ants”), a pair of sketches (“Synergy” and “Polarised schitzotron”, and yes, there’s that word), a track of feedback-laden guitar (“Defibrillator”), an Orb-esque dance number (“Onieronaut”), a percussive synth and drum piece (“Three’s and four’s”) and the near-industrial “Augment and Connect”, which clocks in at over 150 bpms. While these tracks do not work well when interspersed with the others (who invites hyenas to play with lambs?), they demonstrate the diversity of the British duo. If the first album were the only album, one might conclude that the act lacked verve. It’s still the better album, but it’s better because the other tracks allow the listener to hear something more than ambience in the proceedings. Now that the act has brought out all of its toys, we are suitably impressed; but now it’s time to put some back in the box for later. (Richard Allen)