Sunday, May 27, 2007
Nautilis - 081301
Nautilis - "081301"
There's a handful of artists I consistently enjoy despite a certain sense of ordinariness that creeps over their work. I'm thinking mainly of bands like Embrace, Switchfoot, Athlete, and most of all, Snow Patrol, who write pleasant songs, can rock out when the urge occasionally strikes them, but don't aspire to reinvent the wheel in such a way that I unrealistically expect most of my favorite bands to every time they release a new album. Maybe I've just read and taken to heart too much criticism of their music, most of it coming across like half-assed rants from people who may or may not have heard more than a song or two from whatever band they flippantly dismiss. I'm probably as guilty of this as anyone else, though, seeing as I'd rather not hear another song from Daniel Powter or The Fray as long as I live.
By the same token as Snow Patrol, there's nothing truly remarkable about Nautilis. His music is basic, turn-of-the-century intelligent dance music, beats and breaks and digital squibbles aplenty. I realize this is a gross oversimplification that could be applied to countless artists, but I bring it up because no genre or its fans demands constant evolution from artists quite like IDM. By the time that Are You An Axolotl came out in 2002, it was a sound that was stalling and falling out of favor as artists chose to go minimal or return to more traditional house and/or acid sounds. Most of the major players on Planet Mu and Warp were either laying low or trying to reinvent themselves, making this album one of the last major releases (that I'm aware of, Plaid and Amon Tobin aside) to explore this territory without trying to put any kind of obvious spin on it.
That's not to say that Nautilis (Skyler McGlothlin, who later released more hip-hop oriented cuts as Malcolm Kipe) is completely on autopilot here. He drops some humorous samples (original skits?) in on songs, raps on a couple tracks, and pens some genuinely moving melodies, none more beautiful than the album's centerpiece, "081301." A title like that doesn't promise much in the way of actual emotion (unless you get teary eyed while listening to Autechre) but it delivers and has kept me coming back to Are You An Axolotl for years now. The general complaint about IDM -- and I realize that continually using the term and then applying whatever qualities I want to it, along with any perceived judgments against it that people may or may not have actually made, makes me guilty of the same lazy and illogical arguments that I accuse others of -- was that it was cold and emotionless. This premise certainly encouraged the influx of warm, lo-fi droning (Nathan Fake, M83, Ulrich Schnauss, etc.) that largely displaced it in recent years. Not that I'm complaining or anything. I just wish there more tracks like "081301" had proven to be exceptions to the rule.
I don't know if anyone else is going to hear the same things in this song that I do. On the surface it's a very ordinary template that's been worked with countless times before, but McGlothlin turns a beautiful song out of it regardless. I want to say that he was obviously making some kind of personal statement, that he was clearly writing from the heart or something like that. But I have no idea. All I know is that it's a track that's resonated with me for some time, and that I hope others would enjoy just as much.