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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Marc Hellner
Peacefrog Records

Rating: 7/10 ?

November 8, 2005
Attempts to blend digital manipulations with sounds produced by tangible instruments are often received with reservation. Many listeners are of the notion that the use of guitars, cellos or horns with electronic drums and synthesisers is the musical equivalent to sipping orange juice whilst sucking on a polo (or something minty, if you will) - novelties aside, a repulsive marriage of flavours. Then again, there are artists that have proven that analog- and digitally-rooted sounds are not merely chalk and cheese: the likes of the Cocteau Twins, Seefeel and Curve worked them to a tee, and more recently, so have Boards of Canada with their newest outing. With Marriages, Marc Hellner has emerged as a follower in this tapestry of artists who enjoy a challenge.

Hellner is one half of Chicago blip-gazers Pulseprogramming, although, by his own admission, he "writes too much music for just one project," and upon first glance Marriages does not differ massively from Pulseprogramming's Tulsa for One Second. Perhaps most notably, however, is the distinct presence of Hellner's collaborators: Telefon Tel-Aviv's Joshua Eustis, whose crisp, focused production is striking, produced Marriages, and Tortoise's John Herndon and various other members of Telefon Tel-Aviv and Hellner's touring band, L'Altra, contributed. Eustis's prominence reaches a peak on "Mine is Made Of," a measured Rhythm and Blues-tinged affair, complete with crystalline guitar-playing that would have sounded equally at home on Telefon's Map of What is Effortless.

Marriages appears, rather than as a vehicle for exploration, as an outlet for the material Hellner saw unfit for Pulseprogramming. Commencing track "Handshaking" fuses mildly skewed piano recordings and straightforward drum programming with organic waves of sound. His vocals, although one-dimensional, are proficient and complimentary. It is Marriages' most clear-cut track, with the rest adopting a more poignant approach. "Both of Use" works better for Hellner: its elegant use of space provides him with room for manoeuvre, and given his enjoyment for fleshing tracks out with tiny percussion patterns, the track is Marriages' best moment.

The album's falling point is its impatience: in the cases of "Nonsense and Happiness" and "You Are the Picture," Hellner seems in a rush to bring too many parts in at once, when perhaps zooming in on the gentle vapours of sound that introduce the songs may have been used to greater effect. Their initial breezy swells are instead interrupted by hi-hats, vocals and synthesisers, and thus ironed out, and while they mellow into fresh, relaxing pieces of music, one can't help but ignore the potentially interesting paths that could have been explored.

Though not without its peaks and troughs, Marriages is a diverse album. Hellner utilizes the more drawn-out components of his sound more effectively than the immediate ones, and it would be nice to see him develop the side with which he resides most comfortably. "Both of Use" and "Mine is Made Of," however, are executed coolly enough to justify Marriages' merits alone, and while Hellner's fusing of proportions may be some way short of a marriage made in heaven, the gate is still open.

Reviewed by Mike Wright
A staff writer based in London, England, Mike Wright is eternally troubled by the American bastardization of the English language.

See other reviews by Mike Wright



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