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Grasscut - 1 Inch / ½ Mile

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Artist: Grasscut

Album: 1 Inch / ½ Mile

Label: Ninja Tune

Review date: Aug. 6, 2010

The debut album from Grasscut is a bit of unexpected electronic pop that doesn’t actually sound like whatever you’re imagining right now. Like a steampunk electronica group, Grasscut mix the old with the new — a pretty standard formula these days, except the “old” here is like early-1900s radio. The band’s bio lists influences like Gavin Bryars and Kraftwerk as well as Brians Wilson and Eno, and that makes sense when listening to 1 Inch / ½ Mile.

Songwriter Andrew Phillips and instrumentalist Marcus O’Dair both ply many keyboards and laptops, along with more traditional instruments, and use them to sculpt a theatrical tapestry behind and around Phillips’ singing, which can be reminiscent at times of Radar Bros, at others of Owen Pallett. In fact, songs like "Old Machines" are not far removed from the style of Pallett’s recent solo album Heartland.

1 Inch / ½ Mile, though, comes from a more artificial place, along the lines of M83. That’s not to say that the sounds are synthetic — far from it, with the band’s use of found sounds and antique recordings. But these songs feel more constructed than composed, like assemblies of myriad sonic elements. Thankfully, they’re well thought-out. The quiet-loud interchanges of "High Down" emphasize the vocal harmony and placid piano one moment, and drums with thick synth the next; the poignant vocals on "Meltwater" float over chattering drums and cascading electronic sounds; and "The Tin Man" uses a 1920s recording to melancholy effect, blending with drums, distant horns and piano like an antique photo rendered in sound.

Other songs make similar use of older recordings to create unexpected meetings of past and present (and perhaps future). "1946" includes a ghostly telling of WWII-era memories, and "In Her Pride" utilizes creaky, crackling recordings of voices and rough singing amidst worn accordion and a plinking melody. The song that stands out from the others is "Muppet,” a silly concoction of bouncing beats and sproinging synths. Its lighthearted indulgences feel a bit out of place, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The rabbit hole of groaning synths and clattering noises won me over.

1 Inch / 1/2 Mile is an album that won’t necessarily register strongly on a first listen. The complicated layers of sound certainly reward attention, and a song like "The Door in the Wall" on first pass will be memorable for its pleasant singing. Further listens will slowly reveal the complexity of its ping-pong rhythms and the detailed use of instruments and editing. The songs are a bit like a mirror-maze: looking deeper will always reveal more.

By Mason Jones

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