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Attila Faravelli - Underneath the Surface

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Artist: Attila Faravelli

Album: Underneath the Surface

Label: Die Schachtel

Review date: Jul. 15, 2009

Soon after the death of Michael Jackson, film critic Glenn Kenny posted the following on his blog:


    The conservative writer, today, at National Review Online’s The Corner:

    [Michael] Jackson, like [Farrah] Fawcett, was a relic of the time when we were a single nation, listening to the same pop songs, going to the same movies, sticking the same babe posters on our bedroom walls, laughing at the same jokes, even giving our kids names from a common stock. Whether Jackson should be extravagantly mourned or not, I leave to you to decide; but that era of national-cultural unity surely should be. Requiescat in pace.

    Legendary rock critic Bangs, in The Village Voice, August 1977:

    If love is truly going out of fashion forever, which I do not believe, then along with our nurtured indifference to each other will be an even more contemptuous indifference to each others’ objects of reverence. I thought it was Iggy, you thought it was Joni Mitchell or whoever else seemed to speak for your own private, entirely circumscribed situation’s many pains and few ecstasies. We will continue to fragment in this manner, because solipsism holds all the cards at present; it is a king whose domain engulfs even Elvis’. But I can guarantee you one thing: we will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis. So I won’t bother saying good-bye to his corpse. I will say good-bye to you.

Perhaps Elvis and MJ are so singular as to warrant the above as forgivable, as exceptions to punditry’s generally poor sense of history and poorer ability to accurately prognosticate, but I think not, Bangs’s "which I do not believe" hedge aside. Laments of the modern go back for centuries, so while there’s no reason to think that things will ever be the same, there is even less reason to think that they ever could be, or, for that matter, ever were. Just a guess, but if you threw a rock at a hardcore show in 1982, you’d probably hit a Jackson hater.
Still, like Derbyshire and Bangs, I get the feeling that things aren’t like they used to be. Simultaneously, I think that there are surely some dudes around now who will proudly say “I was there” in the documentary on “shitgaze” or whatever that’s due to arrive in fifteen years. I might even be one of those dudes, for all I know. That’s how these things seem to work. Something great might be happening right now, but I’m only grasping the greatness of the past.

These thoughts occurred while listening to Attila Faravelli’s not-particularly-retro Underneath the Surface. I can’t shake the feeling that if Faravelli had created the album 10 years ago, it might have benefitted from that era’s more congruous electronic music scene. Older, more knowledgeable heads might be able to school me on this topic, but for someone who was 14 and ignorant in the year 1999, 10 years ago seemed to contain an embarrassment of riches. Folks seemed to have been far more willing to cross boundaries between techno, IDM, minimal, experimental, glitch, etc. In the same building: a front room for the dance, a back room for the weird, everyone is happy.

Since then, Touch, 12k, Mego and A-Musik have lost interest in promoting anything that might make someone think about moving rhythmically, Mute sticks to rock and uninteresting sledgehammer electronica, Matador pulled out of the game awhile ago, Tigerbeat6 certainly isn’t the Tigerbeat6 of Pimmon and Electric Company, Orthlorng Musork, Source and Mille Plateaux are basically dead, and so on. Staubgold and ~scape come to mind as two labels that continue to palatably straddle the experimental/dance line, but even then, the releases mostly fall into one camp or another. This isn’t meant as a complaint, but it is an elegy for a time when Stewart Walker and Thomas Koner logically fit under the same roof. Of course, maybe it was never that good. Of course, maybe it’s that good now.

Underneath the Surface exists in a current, fractured world where glitch is separate from propulsion and the acoustic lacks digital warmth. It’s not dissimilar from the works of Giuseppe Ielasi (who mastered this album), but whereas Ielasi’s releases seem to be grounded in something very personal, Faravelli wanders. Out of six untitled tracks, four are mostly abstract noodling. Acoustics and electronics alternately pop out of the mix, but, unlike Microstoria, he has no real sense of depth or temporal spacing. These tracks are all constant hum and in-the-moment movements that don’t morph into much. If, like those in the past, Faravelli had smartly crafted his aesthetic to fill multiple niches, perhaps purpose could be perceived.

The other two tracks are more successful at incorporating past movements. Track 3 starts out with lumbering Biosphere bass pulses, but rather than explore Mr. Jennsen’s post-techno landscape, Faravelli tightens the focus. After six minutes of repetition, he briefly opens the pulses to some wild Kraut spazzing before reining them in and ending the track. On the closing track, Faravelli introduces an IDM drum beat, only to quickly morph and skitter it away. It’s an interesting decision, insofar as it ends the album’s only real attempt at attaining a groove. In context, it’s a complete rejection of 1999’s half-measures – most of that stuff was never really dance music.

If that’s the main idea of Underneath the Surface, these are the only tracks that clearly articulate it, and that’s the problem. The past is never above reproach, but any wholesale rejection better have its ducks in a row, lest it deservedly alienate for ignoring real breakthroughs. Do that and you’re no better off than Derbyshire, (maybe) Bangs and (hopefully not) myself: so enthralled by an imagined past that the exciting possibilities of the future never materialize.

By Brad LaBonte

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