When an instrumental composer is noticed by NPR, Pitchfork and The New York Times, the tendency is to think of compromise and crossover. Yet this is not the case with Daniel Wohl ~ one might instead credit the extraordinary promotional efforts and contacts of the influential New Amsterdam label. It’s a relief to discover that Wohl is truly original. As far as the mainstream press is concerned, the only flummoxing part is the idea that the blurring of lines between the electronic and acoustic, the orchestral and abstract, is revolutionary; it’s not. But it’s quite well done here, as the skill level of these particular performers raises Holographic well above the average. Guest stars, including Caroline Bell and Bang on Can All-Stars, provide a link to the modern classical arena, while producer Paul Corley (Ben Frost, Oneohtrix Point Never) provides a link to experimental electronics. Both styles are found here, separate and in tandem.
The fullness of this blend is first heard on “Replicate Part 2,” a piece that recalls the aforementioned Frost. The percussive taps, patient drones, and crunchy textures are grounded by the deep bass and intricate cross-speaker effects. At 11:06, it’s the album’s longest track, making a statement early: it’s not about the length, but the quality, and Wohl is going to do whatever he wants as long as the good ideas keep flowing. A thick electronic drumming section in the middle is the proof, as it fits neither traditional concert hall nor nightclub, but something in-between. The alternate effect is achieved by the late-song vibraphone, which restores a sense of balance, a pendulum returning from its swing.
The beauty of listening is the inability to predict where Wohl will head next; yet the album is held together by a yearning, exploratory tone. It’s been three years since Corps Exquis, and the artist has learned a great deal since then. On the title track, water, cymbals and winding toys share equal billing. Anything can be an instrument. When the strings enter, the title’s effect is achieved; one can see into – or perhaps hear into – the composition. Once again, the effect is horizontal as well as holographic, as the production highlights the use of stereo in a way that cannot be replicated on stage without doubling the number of performers.
New Amsterdam does need to watch the superlatives; it’s enough to say that “Source” is an engaging piece that integrates twinned vocals (and a train!) without calling it “a new standard for how vocals and electronics can work together in music.” That’s setting the bar way too high. Better to allow Wohl space to grow without implying that his work is already better than that of, say, Holly Herndon or Katie Gately. “Source” fits comfortably in that arena, and this is a sufficient compliment. It is, however, fair to say that Wohl may yet set a standard of some sort, as long as his critical success doesn’t get in the way. To date, it’s only encouraged him to aim higher, and at this point, it seems as if the sky may be the limit. (Richard Allen)