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Diamond Watch Wrists - Ice Capped at Both Ends

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Artist: Diamond Watch Wrists

Album: Ice Capped at Both Ends

Label: Warp

Review date: Apr. 27, 2009

Commemorating a decade-long career of abundant and substantive music, Guillermo Scott Herren lives up to his reputation by releasing three full-length albums this spring, each under a different moniker. Under his most prominent alias, Prefuse 73, comes Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian, 29 songs worth of his patented skittering psych-hop. The on-going collaboration with Eva Puyuelo Muns, Savath & Savalas, moves to L.A.’s Stones Throw Records for La Llama. The basis of Catalan folk and jazzy Brazilian psychedelia works as an elegant antithesis to the beat-obsessed Prefuse. And to round out the trio, Herren once-again dislodges from his comfort zone by employing manic drummer Zach Hill as his songwriting partner, bringing to life Diamond Watch Wrists.

Despite Herren’s penchant for productions strewn together from hundreds of momentary samples, he still often relies on the syncopated building block for nearly every rap-based production this side of 1979: the breakbeat. Zach Hill, on the other hand, is the breakbreat’s antichrist, and he very well may have never even so much as stuck a toe inside the pocket. He drums from pure adrenalized emotion, a trait undoubtedly derived from years of backing noise bands. And to ask him to do otherwise would neutralize his idiosyncratic appeal. So if this is the backbone for which Herren has to stretch his swaths of melodic, laptop-produced skin around, he’s up for quite the challenge. The counterbalance alone makes Diamond Watch Wrists an intriguing project.

The opening moments provide a good indication of what’s possible: Hill’s excitable full-kit drumming shaded with burbling electronic noises, chopped-up vocals and a guitar melody doing its darnedest to keep up. But surprisingly, this is not a motif that lasts much longer than the introduction. As the album progresses, we’re presented with a rather even-tempered pop album with only scattered noisy outbursts. Herren’s elegant and colorful productions aren’t a reaction to Hill’s drumming as initially expected. Instead, the rather earthy drum timbre keeps the processed sounds grounded. What could easily be a more American take on a Savath & Savalas album or for that matter a more fleshed out version of the Ladies (Hill’s collaboration with Rob Crow), becomes a new niche into itself. Think angular pop with all the sharp edges softened by artful production.

In the end though, Ice Capped at Both Ends is hard to define. And not just in terms of critical analysis, but in terms of an audience as well. Fans of Herren’s discography will be much more accepting of Diamond Watch Wrists than that of Hill’s, though it’s hard to imagine either will be completely satisfied. Throw in a name, album title, artwork and label (for the most part at least) that screams dance floor-ready – not to mention an industry that rewards lowest-fi production and rudimentary songwriting above all else – and it only diminishes returns further.

However, Herren and Hill are veterans. They have proved their worth by producing many successful projects and gained respected reputations in the process. The appeal of musical challenge is the drive behind their careers now, and Diamond Watch Wrists is certainly that for everyone involved. Repeated listens (with and without a concentration on context) reveal an ambitious, shape-shifting pop album with idiosyncrasies at every turn. It stays with you by holding its substance in the unassuming crevices of melancholy. This is not an album that will impress your friends; it’s an album what will stimulate and pacify your mind.

By Michael Ardaiolo

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