One’s enjoyment of this album will likely hinge on one’s regard for repetition. When a loop changes timbre yet repeats for 25 minutes, is this a good thing or bad? Is the intricate process behind such tweaking fascinating to the ear, or tedious? A curious beauty can arise from the cyclical nature of a morphing sample, a transcendent, trancelike nudge; or the repetition can fall flat and alienate the listener. Fortunately the loops on Markus Mehr‘s In trail lovely threads, like jellyfish, and each stands up considerably well over the course of its delivery. But in the end, it’s not the loops that make the biggest impact; this is reserved for a seemingly un-Mehr like blast of noise located at the album’s centre. This sound is also repeated, but it shakes up the proceedings in a revelatory fashion.
For nearly 14 minutes, “Komo” emerges from a silent cocoon, gradually stretching and testing its boundaries with the aforementioned five-second string motif. The sound is not unlike that of the recent Marta Mist production: languid and sweet, like a ballroom serenade. But then the guitars and electronics make their entrance, balancing the barely-audible beginning with an abrasive end. The string sample is folded back on itself, stuttered, and echoed. A philosopher begins to speak about the “absence of good ideas”. And then he – or more precisely, everything within sonic range, is smashed by a cudgel of sound. And this violence is actually a very good idea, although it does move the last eight minutes of the 26 minute track outside of the ambient comfort zone. It’s a safe bet to say that most listeners won’t hear this coming, but when they do (if they don’t spill their drinks), they will likely reassess their preliminary opinions. Hidden Shoal calls the second track the “darker” one, but the label is dead wrong; “Komo” is Darth, while “Ostinato” is Luke.
This second track also excels at repetition, but its centre sample is less obvious, which helps it to blend in a bit better while hiding its primary appeal. This time around, the electronics are present from the beginning, teeming around the strings like hungry beetles. “Ostinato” is more mood than movement, and never achieves the heights of its predecessor; it operates like a long, slow coda. The horns of the fifth minute are the highlight, achieving a Caretaker-like grace.
In is the opening salvo of a Mehr triptych; the next installment, On, is scheduled for release in June. On‘s tunes are said to be shorter and more dronelike, which bodes well for the release. After Off arrives in 2013, we may look back and understand If a bit better, but for now it’s an exercise in repetition that reaches its best heights when its patterns are broken. (Richard Allen)