Electronic music has long been associated with extended excursions and, occasionally, challenging durations. Whereas the three-minute pop song was closely tied in with the 7″ single, electronic producers from Kraftwerk and Giorgio Morodor onwards have leaned towards the longer format, eating up sides of vinyl with extended musical workouts without so much as a glance at the shorter option. It’s no coincidence that for many years the 12″ single was the DJ’s weapon of choice, and as home listening electronica grew, many producers took full advantage of the 70+ minutes available. The downside was that few producers had enough ideas and talent to fill a disc that long without boring the audience; pop songwriters tended to stick to a verse-chorus-verse structure whilst electronic music follows a much more linear pattern of looping a single idea which is hard to pull off if it isn’t strong enough. An eight-minute groove is fine and dandy if you’re dancing, but ten of them in a row when you’re sat on the couch at home is another case entirely.
As it turned out, the penny dropped regarding the over-stretched 70-minute records and album running times have gradually fallen over the years, but the idea that a ‘proper’ electronic track has to last over five minutes still remains, and anything sub-2 minutes is considered a mere diversion or interlude. Yet it doesn’t have to be like this – certain hip-hop producers have demonstrated that a wealth of ideas can be crammed into a short space of time without sensory overload (J Dilla’s masterpiece Donuts managed 31 tracks in 43 minutes, for example). Perhaps it’s time for electronic musicians to show that they too can master the short-form as well.
Which leads us to Home, the debut EP by P.Jay Fry, which fits nine brief but fully-formed electronica tracks into the same running time as the average Ricardo Villalobos tune. The fact that only a couple of tracks on Home top two-minutes is at first disconcerting, and it’s tempting to repeat each track three times in order to get an electronic track of standard duration. But eventually it is possible to tune into the way each track concentrates its ideas into a small duration, and positively tumbles into the next tune. One of the most successful tracks here, “Everything”, with its busy percussive patterns and bassy booms, is a mere 91 seconds long. “Lights Out”, which follows it, is only a couple of seconds longer but has time to nod towards an ambient jungle groove before coming to an abrupt end. The tracks are busy, and inventive: there’s a nod to hip-hop and Flying Lotus in the beats, but the melodies are pure electronica, with plenty of atmospheric chords and rolling basslines.
It’s the endings that suggest that Home isn’t quite the final word from P.Jay Fry, however, and there’s a feeling that many of the tracks here are a little incomplete, as if this EP is a collection of preparatory sketches rather than the finished work. Each track is full of invention, far more so than many other producers who would take thrice as long to say half as much, but the way that many of the tunes here are cut off in their prime leads to a nagging sense of disappointment rather than elation. The unthinkable occurs: wouldn’t it be better if these tracks were longer? But then again, perhaps P.Jay Fry is operating in line with that showbiz maxim: always leave ’em wanting more. (Jeremy Bye)