Review of Sleeping Pills [12k1054]

Textura (.ORG)

Such details leave little doubt as to the kind of game René Margraff’s hunting on his debut release under his chosen alias. As indicated by recent releases by Seaworthy and label head Taylor Deupree, 12k’s doors appear to have opened wider lately, with the label moving away from the strict electronic purity of its earlier output to an electro-acoustic style that’s as receptive to natural and field recording sounds as it is digital. Very much in keeping with that movement, Margraff’s Pillowdriver sound is conspicuously lo-fi, with the Berlin-based producer creating the tracks using a Fender Jazzmaster, synthesizer, and field recordings, and laying them down with a four-track cassette and guitar stomp boxes. In simplest terms, it’s a guitar album, then, but it’s also considerably more than that once Margraff’s done manipulating the material and surrounding the tracks’ tremolo-laden twang with thick waves of vaporous distortion—a little bit Ry Cooder-meets-Tim Hecker, if you will.

In the opening “Twenty-Nine,” desert winds blow across a ponderous drift of slow-motion tremolo shadings and layered sound masses, while wavering chords echo across dense, ever-swelling fields of distortion in “Two”—not distortion, in an abrasive sense, by the way, but more like an immense, billowing cloud inching across the sky. With its shimmering pool of wavering tones, “Eleven” captures the softer, ambient side of the Pillowdiver sound whereas the rhythmic feel of the stately “Seventeen” feels like a breath exhaling in slow-motion. During perhaps the most potent sleeping pill of all, the beautiful “Seven” couches a gossamer melody within a textural mass. Incidentally, the numbered titles give nothing away as to whatever meanings Margraff has in mind for the nine pieces; in fact, it’s entirely possible they’re exercises that gradually accumulated in number until he whittled them down to an album length. Though there are exceptions (e.g., the chiming theme prominently featured in “One”), the forty-eight-minute Sleeping Pills is ultimately less about melody per se and more about establishing mood via the sculpting of dense sound masses.

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