Review of Folding, And The Tea [12k1021]

Grooves (US)

12k’s latest signing has a background in Kansas City post-rockers Saturn138 and studied structure-generating processes in music at Mills College (whose alumni include John Cage and Steve Reich). Not surprisingly, the basis of Folding, And The Tea is the processing of acoustic guitar notes through software to create complex, latter-day systems music. As is often the case with these exercises (Dan Abrams’ Stream and Fennesz’s Instrument are close parallels) the record is constituted by warm, drifting tones suspended amidst glitch and detritus. Sometimes, as on “Or With The Tea,” the guitar lies naked on the surface, all but unsoiled by a modicum of “errors,” strummed as though this were Papa M feeling particularly picturesque. Most of the time, through, the instrument becomes unrecognisable, sunk into software code to leave jittery traces. If it’s hardly a novel idea, it is executed with sufficient panache as to be well above any suggestions of stagnacy.

Postmodernist theory underpins the album (the “folding” in question is a Deluzian notion, an irruption on an otherwise undifferentiated surface), but this is an accessible affair and it really isn’t necessary to grapple with the academic literature to get a kick from Willits’ music. Like work from labelmates Sogar and Shuttle358, Folding, And The Tea conveys an emotive side, and whereas those other acts are imbibed with poignancy and sadness, Willits sounds as though he’s grinning his rear end off. This is a very literal take on the notion of laptop music as “folk music,” since that’s exactly what it sounds like – the downhome country blues scrambled, but its farmyard spirit never completly erased. Another kick in the teeth for the smug acolytes who dismiss this stuff as too minimal for its own good. – John Gibson

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