Review of Northern (Re-Issue) [12k2009]

Tofaki (.COM)

A striking degree of “realness”: A sonic volubility and emotive vulnerability which will be hard to follow up on.

The electronic music business is moving fast, but Taylor Deupree is not trying to keep up with its fads and short-lived trends. Growing gently and at its own pace, his discography is not the usual ragbag of multi-label snapshots, but a collection of quiet, unpretentious and big-in-a-small-way works that demand attention and warrant rewards far beyond the usual expiration dates of the industry. This minute attention to quality has not made life easier for him. Quite on the contrary, even though his hand has become more secure, his script even more recognisable and his vision increasingly clearer over the years, projects have started to take on a life of their own, denying him an easy unemotional exit.

“I think it is important to note that I rarely consider my work complete”, Deupree says on the issue, “Deadlines, contracts, and schedules often force the ‘end’ of a project while the nearly limitless tools available for digital sound and image processing often result in work that could be ever-evolving.” Effectively, this means that the music continues living inside his mind, continually transforming, constantly morphing and endlessly asking questions. If his records are indeed musical metaphors for a certain period in his life, then what is happening to Deupree is nothing but the inmost human desire to replay, relive and reevaluate one’s personal history from the comfort of one’ mind. For all of its Freudian psychological value, this process hardly ever leads to tangible results. For Northern, however, an unplanned and unexpected opportunity presented itself, resulting in one of the artistic acmes of his oeuvre.

The first edition of the album, released in what seemed like a pretty large print run already, sold out in no time. Popular demand, rave reviews and a buzz of excitement in the online community subsequently made a repressing all but unavoidable. Right from the start, it was clear to Deupree that simply taking the same master to the production plant wouldn’t do. Sitting down to check out the possibilities of a subtle remix, he discovered that some of the plugins and effects used at the time were no longer installed on his laptop, creating a discreetly divergent aural image. It was this version of essentially the same music which served as the basis for a reinterpretation. Of course, Deupree could not actually physically change the past. But for this second edition of Northern, he seized his chance to at least make it sound different.

The relation between the two versions of the album, then, is like perusing a different translation of a novel or re-reading the same book after several years: Of course, the words won’t differ substantially. They may even be exactly the same. But what seemed trivial at first now appears deep, what looked enigmatic suddenly makes perfect sense, details have turned into meaningful leitmotifs, grand themes disintegrated into negligibilities. It is like listening to the John Cage’s piece “Organ2/ASLSP”, whose performance at Halberstadt is scheduled to end in the year 2640. On two subsequent visits, the notes being played may not have changed – but you will have.

The essence of the first cut is still there, though, and still begs to be appreciated by anyone who has missed out on it until now. Northern is a sonic hommage to the beauty of Winter and frosty landscapes. The booklet, containing original photography by Deupree, already reveals a great deal about the music.There is a clarity and purity in these images akin to Japanese caligraphy, which is mirrored by the sounds: On one of the fotos, a black fence is delineating a stretched-out oval space and the contrast with the pristine whiteness of the snow makes it seem as if it were being drawn there by an omnipotent painter with a single brushstroke.

Equally, the music is of great simplicity in terms of its basic structures, pieces unfolding along the lines of a chord progression, an irregular rhythmic pattern, a mood or a melody, which gradually wells up from the bottom of the teakettle, evaporating dust-like into the wamth of the kitchen. And yet, this impression is deceptive. Every single second brings an additional timbre, a new revelation, a discreet alteration in accent, phrasing or sound of the main theme. On the title track and on closing piece “November”, Deupree builds his music on the foundation of a dreamy sequence of melancholically caressed keys, with Balalaika-like tremolos, glistening streaks of strings, warm feedback and padded crackle building in its periphery, creating an organic, absently mushrooming environment.

Despite the obvious electronic treatment Deupree is applying, it is an environment relying heavily on natural acoustic instruments: Northern bathes in the warm resonance of strummed or plucked Guitar chords, airy Flute lines, tenderly reverbed Vibes or even Fender Rhodes as well as infinitely sustained organ chords, with post-processing providing for a sympathetic, naively deformed lense through which a wonderous child is looking at these freely flowing compositions.

Just as with his protege Jodi Cave, whose For Myria still ranks as one of my favourite albums of 2007, the album mainly dwells in the upper register of the spectrum, hardly ever touching bass bottom, which lends it a weightless, ethereal quality without ever getting too ephemeral as to loose itself in a cheesy ether. It is in this heavenly wonderland that Deupree attains a sonic volubility and emotive vulnerability which will be hard to follow up on – both for others and himself.

There is also a degree of “realness” to this music which is striking. While there is a popular trend to disgress into mythical dimensions with albums mindtravelling as far as the poles and diverting into imaginary iceages, Deupree’s Winter vision is quite tangible. It is a music which describes its most immediate surroundings, tells of the stories the forrest mumbles in its sleep, unafraid of the mysteries of the night and fully aware of human fragility. It is music which doesn’t deny that there may be a fast-paced world out there somewhere, but instead chooses to stay on its mountain top, taking in the view, in awe of nature’s beauty. Others may be moving in step with the trends, but Taylor Deupree knows what he is doing. This may be the closest electronic music will ever get to folk music.

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