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Arp - The Soft Wave

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Artist: Arp

Album: The Soft Wave

Label: Smalltown Supersound

Review date: Sep. 9, 2010

On his debut album, In Light, and its sequel, The Soft Wave, Arp’s music gives the listener an experience that’s supremely chill, yet anally fastidious. On the one hand, former Tussle member Alexis Georgopoulos is clearly doing what feels good: like his heroes, Cluster and Terry Riley, Arp has strange sex with analog electronics and classical music. Yet things unfold with a neurotic slowness that suggests he’s afraid of making a decision his forebears wouldn’t approve of. Then again, maybe he’s just emulating what he hears in these revered artists (to contemporary ears, does Cluster’s pastoral Soweisoso have a high-strung quality?) or that it’s a deliberate compositional strategy, even if it makes the listener restless. Anxiety of influence or idiosyncrasy?

This ambiguity sets him apart in a field of overnight synth voyagers, even though a very similar problem plagues his former band (and San Francisco in general). Tussle backdoors former punks into dance music and krautrock. It’s as if they were manifested by the collective subconscious of a generation mired in self-imposed limitations. As a result, Tussle is more of a vehicle than a destination you’d care to linger in — their records are perfectly enjoyable but low on replay value. Hearing a Tussle song surface in the Polish-born minimal techno DJ Magda’s Resident Advisor podcast, I was taken aback: the band is so proper in their record-collector sensibility that they seem out of place in such a contemporary setting. Arp, too, is studied in his retro aesthetic, but his taste isn’t so orthodox. He values the pomposity of early electronic music, the classical vestiges and ornamental flourishes as much as its more droney, textural, processed side, a slightly unfashionable slant on synths.

Georgopoulos’s soundworld isn’t academic, although it can sound like it was made with a very specific audience in mind, a scene with a strong sense of prohibition. Whether making a musical allusion to the Brian Eno of Another Green World on “From a Balcony Overlooking the Sea” (his first track to feature singing) or naming “Grapefruit” after a Yoko Ono book of conceptual “event scores,” Arp operates in a state of constant reference.

In the long run, however, the meticulously paced Arp sounds like no one else; he just manages to convince you that you’re in familiar territory by soundtracking a parade of his own influences. Forget about kosmische: this is earthbound music, and its abstractions are rooted in musical neoclassicism and indirectly informed by conceptual art. The cyclical time of Daniel Lopatin’s Oneohtrix Point Never is the opposite of Georgopoulos’s ruthless linear plotting and sense of restraint. As on In Light, the synthesizers on The Soft Wave sound live, not sequenced, and never bloat into drone (though the roiling “Catch Wave” is the closest Arp has come to this style), which gives another shade of meaning to the album’s slow builds.

The Soft Wave is not the sort of record you’d regret putting on, even if you might not ever be compelled to do so. Georgopoulos’s way of bringing the art he loves into the music he makes is both quaint and refreshingly unusual: he doesn’t wear artists like badges in the increasingly annoying way Sonic Youth does (doesn’t the Internet make packing your album art and song titles with references to Dodie Bellamy and Christopher Wool seem not merely outdated, but kind of redundant and condescending?). And neither does he use provocation in this strangely authoritarian, post-capitalist Terence Koh fashion: that’s the kind of art that works by making the viewer afraid of not getting the joke, instilling a kind of para-social fear. If you don’t “get” a “joke” on the Internet, who is around to judge you? If Arp’s music bears the traces of the performance art he called to mind with his first album’s Bas Jan Ader theme, maybe it is in its quiet inclusiveness, the way it insists on a kind of artistic decency and responsibility, suggesting domestic uses for itself.

Although the music is retro, Arp’s embrace of his own artifice does more than connect it to a manicured past; it renders it more credible by focusing in on the tiniest details.

By Brandon Bussolini

Other Reviews of Arp

In Light

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