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Tyondai Braxton - Central Market

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Artist: Tyondai Braxton

Album: Central Market

Label: Warp

Review date: Sep. 15, 2009

Before his stint in Battles, Tyondai Braxton made a name for himself by orchestrating loops into ecstatic compositions. On his first solo LP in seven years, he graduates from the certainty of circuitry to the precision of classically trained musicians. For Central Market, Braxton called on the New York-based Wordless Music Orchestra, a 50-piece collective known for its collaborations with rock musicians, including Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. Like Braxton, the Wordless Music Orchestra prides itself on being able to function in both rock and classical contexts.

Being that Central Market is Braxton’s first real foray into composing and arranging an army of classical instruments, he needed some guidance. Enter Igor Stravinsky. His modernist music from the ballets Petrushka and The Rite of Spring (which famously caused a riot at its Paris premiere in 1913) inspired much of Central Market, especially the interplay between the orchestra and Braxton’s trademark lo-fi synths and videogame FX.

The album plays like a suite, with one piece leading into the next, and with each track presenting a series of fabulous tableaux based around a mythical central market. The combination of synth, loop techniques and no-joke instrumentalists playing wild and unconventional rhythms is totally over-the-top, but that’s exactly what makes this album so dazzling. On tracks like "Opening Bell" and "Uffe’s Woodshop," the shameless embrace of the spectacular is super fun and smart without being smug.

At other times, the joyride of musical ideas gets to be too much, and exhausts itself without a purpose. "Platinum Rows" is the overly ambitious centerpiece. Beginning with psychedelic guitars, Braxton piles on orchestral interjections, sumptuous strings and virtuosic winds, peppering the piece with less predictable sounds like kazoo and whistling. But the piece also builds too quickly and ends awkwardly, moving from one episode to the next with little sense of direction.

Still, it’s nice to hear a musician who’s clearly beyond proselytizing about "bringing classical music to a rock audience." Braxton may have a conservatory degree in music composition and a family history of musical brilliance, but to categorize his music as "classical for rock fans" or "rock for classical fans" would leave both camps wanting more. Best to see where the ideas on Central Market lead and worry about labeling it later.

By Miki Kaneda

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