The music in Meek, the new album from Bitbasic, is rather like the font used on the album cover: attractive but puzzling at first, and requiring a little bit of work from the audience, after which all becomes clear. Under the guise of Bitbasic, Simon Haycock plays games with the listener. Nearly every track toys with genre, appearing as IDM, perhaps glitch or ambient or even drone: ultimately it's safest to describe the album itself as experimental. What's more, despite the prevalence of digital manipulation, Meek feels organic; there's a looseness to the tempo and sometimes the pitch.
The first track, Superb Owl, begins with a minute of ambient drone (come back, reader, it gets better) supplemented by a ponderous kick/snare rhythm (it improves, I promise) and a few harsh synth explosions (no, really it does get better, honest) before ducking into a quiet, hi-hat free and therefore Radiohead-reminiscent groove (see, I told you). BitBasic then soaks the aural field with full-bodied synthy noises, and a track that looked like being a cool, jazzy groove finally becomes, well, an ambient drone.
Fantasy Pretzel is an IDM workout that refuses to lets its stately guitar hook settle, preferring to break up proceedings with skittish percussion and noises off. Stealth Elk takes an innocent folky mandolin(?) loop, chivvies it along with a pulsing bass, shoves it into a sampler and ravishes it with chops and edits while twirling its moustache. Next up is It Shtill Worksh, which sounds like a 8-bit game soundtrack designer having a bad day with his keyboard's pitch wheel. In other words, this album is all over the place.
Remember that I mentioned that Meek feels surprisingly organic for an electronica album? (I have to ask because the internet has probably shattered your attention span.) Anyway, the album was made as part of the RPM Challenge wherein participants create 35 minutes or 10 tracks of original material in just 28 days. Bitbasic streamlined the process somewhat, eschewing 27 of those days. As he explains on REC 72's release page:
I was not allowed to commit anything to a timeline, and had to play the whole album by triggering clips in Ableton using my monome, playing live keyboard, and applying midi automation on the fly with sliders. This gives the album much more of a live feel, and was refreshing to get away from the typical DAW timeline.
I bet we're thinking the same thing. An album made in one day should be awful. Let's test that theory:
Theory disproved. As my previous reviews of his work (Grating Rainbows, Leonard and Pixel Mixel) make clear, Bitbasic has jazz-funk in his veins, and Alpha Dromayo's twisted guitar-ish riff, hefty bass boom and understated jerky percussion continues in one of those same veins. However, he also likes to lean on a synth's filter until it overwhelms all in its path, and by the end of this track you'll wonder if you've been tricked into listening to funky ambient drone, a previously unknown music genre. In fact, the whole of Meek is subject to genre spasms. Listening to it is rather like taking a ride in a plush taxi whose onboard computer keeps interrupting the journey with sundry warning noises, whilst the driver periodically bumps along the verge just for the hell of it.
Moving on, Halfway Hut sounds like twenty seconds from a bootleg recording of Led Zeppelin III. The next track, (Have A) Nice Time, will please confirmed Bitbasic fans who need a fix of staccato synths and jiggered-about jazz guitar. Staying distinctly organic and "real", the last note of the guitar melody is so flat it sounds as though the instrument's machine head has had enough and simply can't be bothered to make the effort. Somehow it works and the result is rather soothing. Trust me. You don't? Oh, go on then:
Ah, that feels better. Now, I could waffle on about the remaining four tracks but by now you're either going to take Meek home for an epic tantric sex session or give it a fake telephone number. If you do wake up the next day feeling spent yet satisfied, please think about sending a cigarette or a thank you email or tweet to Bitbasic and/or the excellent Rec72 netlabel.
Bitbasic - Meek (link to individual mp3s and zipped album)