Oval – Oh

Markus Popp has crafted some of the more interesting and complex minimal electro in recent years. The pinnacle of his earlier work came with the mid 90’s pair of releases Systemische and 94 Diskont, which rose to the pinnacle of pastoral glitchy soundscapes. Then a trio, the music was centered around worship of the accidental; they would take cds of crafted samples, scratch them up and re-sample the results. Through a heavy amount of processing, what could easily be incredibly harsh becomes a warm bath of digital tones backed by discreet rhythms made of pops and skips. Now primarily the sole work of Popp, with former bandmate Frank Metzger handling the design work, he’s back after nearly a decade off with a new spin on the Oval music.

The surprises some early in Oh, the most recent EP release from Oval, clearly detailed in the opening track ‘Hey’. After an initially calm 2 minutes of synth wash and glitchy tones bouncing around the track, a clear burst of drums rounds out the mix. Such distinct instrumentation was rarely found on earlier works, but the kinetic flourishes and free jazz fills match the energy of the lead melody and don’t come across as too jarring.

The third track ‘Grrr’ feels a bit darker, like a fax machine drunkenly crooning Standards-era Tortoise. Comparisons to the band are fair, as Popp is now labelmates wth Tortoise and much of the US probably first grew aware of Oval via their mid-ninties remixes for the band. Spazzy, almost digital interpretations of guitar fed through a variety of filters and finely chopped become the lead, making for something at once soothing and jarring,

The latter half of the EP is slightly more traditional Oval, featuring more abstract tone poems: as much meditations on style as they are functioning songs. Taking improvised sounding fret tapping and layering in digital elements, ultimately what is created is something that tricks the ear. Any attempt to consciously recognize what is organic and what is electronic becomes an empty quest and it’s best to simply be tugged along by the flow. Some of the shorter songs may feel like they end abruptly, but you’re left with a satisfying listen and some anticipation towards next month’s full length O.

Here’s one of less beat driven, more abstract songs from Oh:


The cover art, affixed as a hand glued card to the 1,000 piece limited run vinyl comes from a still of ‘From Here To Ear’ (2007) by French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, Video of the piece made the blog rounds earlier this year:

The installation is a walk through of an aviary populated by Zebra finches and plugged in electric guitars. As the birds do what birds do, as well react to the passing guests, they muck about with strings and frets doing their best to cover early Sonic Youth. There’s some correlation between Boursier-Mougenot’s piece and both the technical approach and tonal structure of Oval. The random flecks of tone and the abstract routes melody take can be found thoughout Popp’s catalog as well in ‘From Here To Ear’. The use of a still from the piece is the only connection however, as Disquet found out from a Thrill Jockey rep that Boursier-Mougenot has no involvement with the music and he just allowed use of the image.

While I’m on the subject, take a look at Hanes Broecker’s ‘Drink Away The Art,’ a piece which pretty much functions as the title implies while still remaining interesting.

Oh was released June 15th, 2010 via Thrill Jockey. The first pressing of the EP, which was pressed on 150 gram white vinyl and featured a hand glued still from Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s ‘From Here To Ear’ has sold out. Check back with Thrill Jockey to see when it is repressed, though you can get it digitally from the label as well. Oval’s next release come in early September and will be a double disk/vinyl full length that will feature 70 songs, a sample of which can be found over at Disquet.

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