"Electronica" is a term that's become slightly tarnished by the swamping of the genre with music that could be better described as electronically created easily-listening. It's often seen as a bastardised offshoot of 90's "ambient" (and its ugly younger sibling, the horrible post-Morcheeba trip-hop hangover of the "chill-out" genre). The mention of electronica brings to mind rustling Carharrt and scruffy goatees, men in caps staring at Apple laptops onstage while the audience smoke, chat amongst themselves or sway along to the endless featureless beats. But electronic music is one of the few genres that has blossomed in a truly kaleidescopic way over the last decade - from the sleaze excesses of electroclash and the jarring broken-beats of Planet Mu and Rephlex (and the archipelagos of micro-labels around them), to the seminal drone and pulse of Boards of Canada, the sonic-magpie collages of The Books, the arty glitch-pop of Simon Bookish and Patrick Wolf and the postmodern remixes and re-readings of vv-m, 2 Many DJs and legions of faceless white-label bootleggers the world over.
This vast genre is a shifting, fickle, endless thing, lacking a strong discursive thread or central sound palette to hold things together in quite the same way as, say, indie-rock or whatever. And due to the proliferation of user-friendly and readily available recording software, everyone is at it - which, while great in some ways, also means you have to dig through interminable layers of dross to find the best stuff.
But sometimes, you find treasure. Nomad Junk is Capitol K's third album, and is perhaps the one that will finally catapult him into the same league as the Cubase abusers, pioneering chin-strokers and bespectacled aural scholars that have been pushing the envelope through the last two decades. From the outset, it fuses a cavalier experimentalism with fully-formed melodies and constantly evolving song structures. Each piece is draped in layers of samples and noise, organic instrumentation stacked against perfectly imperfect drum loops, record crackle seeping through banjo and synth, harmonies and spoken word running back and forth against the beautifully textured backing.
Nomad Junk skips around musically just as its song titles do geographically. Computery synth flexes over warm guitar and snatches of glitched vocal in Hong Kong; Taipei is a mind-bending, euphoric construction of hiss, crackle, warped vocals and percussive bass. The unspecificied Cosmopolis is described in squalls of synth over breakbeat decorated with Danelectro lead lines; Pan Continental is built around Spanish guitar piped through a digital South American filter.
So, nomadic as it may be, Capitol K has turned all the junk, samples, influences and ephemera into musical pearls, and cemented his own reputation in doing so - this is one of the finest albums of 2005.
8John Brainlove's Score