Originally released on cassette in an edition of 100, this short album (or long EP) is now available to a much larger audience via the Spectrum Spools imprint. The half hour of sonics by Daren Ho often sounds like broken electronics, filled with hissing and fizzing, but what makes it work is an underlying prettiness thatís not initially obvious. Synths donít easily portray melancholy, or emotion at all, but the lack of gloss here helps keep it real. The subtle melodies take a while to sneak in. The first piece, essentially a two-minute prelude, treats us to a number of pleasantly unpredictable whizzing synths as well as burbling electronics. "Chompers World" takes us into a realm of childlike piano; flashing, bubbly hisses; and chirps that brings the title to life as the twisted image of a video game.
Across the album, Ho choreographs a randomness which, coupled with pieces that extend past the five-minute mark, sometimes leads to restlessness -- the songs can lack that assured feeling of guiding the listener down a controlled path and because of that, can overstay their welcome. The vast, reverberating space of "In Peru" shows that synthesizers can sound wistful; what sounds like a broken robot, murmurs in the corner as a malfunctioning machine occasionally creaking and sighing. The slowly-falling piano notes top off a disconcerting, yet also beautiful vista, but at five minutes long, the song feels as though itís missing something. The stolen-from-Kraftwerk synths that lend "Slow Sum Part Two" its melody blend cutely with speed-shifted burbles, but it all seems to lose focus before the concluding wash of static.
The exception to prove the rule, however, is the longest piece, "Smiley". The song succeeds in its eight-plus minutes by laying back and defocusing completely. Adrift on electrical fritzes and a slow submarine ping, the voice-like tones coming and going in the background lend the song an eerie, mystical feel. As it drones away, itís easy to lose track of time.
Thereís a deft hand at work amidst the seeming anarchy here, demonstrated by the cleverly subtle prettiness that finds its way through the haze. While a bit of a firmer navigational grasp could guide things into an even stronger shape, the music here is nonetheless fascinating and rewarding. For those who like their inner-space zone-outs soundtracked by mad scientists, this is the ticket.
By Mason Jones