Just when you think you know an artist, they change. This is the case with Chris Madak (Bee Mask), whose lovely new short album (or extended single) is his most intricate and refined recording to date. Presented with two quarter-hour tracks, one might surmise that their development would be from quiet to loud or sparse to busy, and that an ongoing drumbeat would anchor the recordings; and one would be wrong.
“Vaporware” starts with electronic blips and shakes, swiftly joined by a sub-second vocal echo. This latter addition places Madak in bvdub territory: a land in which vocal loops are used as texture, balancing the electronic base with a (controlled) humanity. But the surprises don’t end there; the fourth minute twitches like a thrashing sleeper, then rises, rubs its eyes and opens a window. In wanders a glowing glockenspiel that warms the room like advancing sunlight on finished wood. This transition (heard in the sample below) is incredibly smooth, given the distance traveled. As the patterns subtly mutate over the course of the track, they cast a mesmerizing spell. The organic and the electronic dance, parlay, and at times even seem to merge. Seldom have the worlds seemed so close.
At the start, “Scanops” hides its true nature as well. The vocal contributions establish a bulkhead, daring invaders to unseat them. Wind chimes seek to surround them, but reinforcements soon arrive. The challengers respond with synthesized gurgles and woodpecker knocks. The contest continues until sub-bass rolls in, announces its presence, and subdues them both. Yet instead of uniting, the components continue to battle for supremacy: the vocal loops through consistency (slow and steady wins the race) and the synthesizers through volume and bombast. In the ninth minute, the human element seems to have retreated, but before long the secret is revealed; the loops had been playing possum, waiting for the electronics to wear themselves out. In the eleventh minute, they return, or perhaps continue; the quiet, reliable voice often goes unnoticed in the midst of an argument.
Evolution and surprise are not only keys to an effective track, but to an effective career. Vaporware / Scanops is an encouraging sign that Bee Mask may be in it for the long run. (Richard Allen)