Markus Mehr ~ On

Woah, what happened here?  After the two long, ambient, loop-based tracks of In (the first part of a triptych, reviewed here earlier this year), we expected more of the same.  But with On, Germany’s Markus Mehr is really on ~ in fact, this is the best thing we’ve ever heard from him.  And while In hinted at drone without toppling over, On can only be categorized as experimental.  It’s certainly not ambient.

Boom-be-boom, saw-saw: this is how the opening piece, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”, begins.  It’s an industrial track.  No, wait, here come some strings.  It’s modern composition.  Is that a sitar?  Sorry again, this is world music.  Boom-be-boom, saw-saw.  Damn.

“Komo” (the opening track of In) included a dialogue sample bemoaning the lack of new ideas.  The new ideas are right here, embedded in every track.  By new, we don’t always mean completely new – some new ideas are juxtapositions of old ideas, and the lounge flavor of single “Flaming Youth” is a throwback to the early days of Air.  That is, until buzzes and pings take over the mid-section.  Mehr’s plunderphonics are completely unexpected, and entirely welcome.  It’s hard to get a handle on exactly what kind of album this is, because the artist crunches ideas from so many sources.

The album does include its ambient moments.  “Only for a While” offers melancholic lines and sweet flourishes, exuding the requisite shimmer.  But just as the listener starts to relax, the second round of the lounge v. blast battle begins.  By the time the album’s centerpiece, “Duck Became Swan”, ends, the listener becomes convinced that what at first seemed ugly is instead beautiful: the trick of the fairy tale and the musician.

By shortening the length of uninterrupted loops, Mehr improves upon the techniques used on his previous album; and by including shorter pieces (three are under three minutes) and expanding his sonic palette (cartoon samples, monks), he offers listeners a new set of  sounds to enjoy.  The third part of the triptych, Off, isn’t due until 2013, but is said to be a single, 49-minute piece; we’ve got half a year to speculate as to its sound.  Our hope is that Mehr will continue to push forward in this fashion, leaving his comfort zone in his rear view mirror as he speeds up the Autobahn.  (Richard Allen)

Release date:  July 17

Available here

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