You'll be excused for thinking Oh is an engaging album of truncated remixes of Tortoise's 1998 masterwork T.N.T. Something in the live drum sound and generous amount of aural white space -- particularly in the four-minute album opener "Hey" and the clattering vibe-out "Grrr" -- that characterizes Oval's recently issued EP certainly suggests the intricate meditations of the storied Chicago post-rock unit. But, of course, Oh is the somewhat startling and curiously satisfying return of minimal electronic music luminary Markus Popp's Oval project. The EP sold out well before its release date.
The contrast between our favorite Oval track and the material on this teaser for Oval's forthcoming full-length could not be more stark. Oh is crammed with concise song sketches, the longest being "Hey." Most of the 15 tracks, however, are shorter than two minutes, and as such Oh is over almost as soon as it begins. At the other temporal extreme is our favorite Oval composition of all time, the beautiful, 24-minute droner "Do While," which was released on the set 94 Diskont in 1996. "Do While" breathes gently, it establishes its own climate, it sounds like the soundtrack to a movie about blood cells. While Oh seems tightly focused -- and in total is only 58 seconds longer than "Do While" -- it is hard to get a sense of what that focus might be given the brevity. More important, perhaps, is what the contrast between the longer forms and Oh's outbursts signifies in terms of Mr. Popp's artistic vision.
Minimalist music is often describes as being concerned with iterations, repetition and gradual change. Popp's prior Oval efforts were meticulously crafted, heavily analyzed, anchored in technology and Popp's own innovative software and programming. According to the press materials heralding the arrival of Oh, Popp now purposefully utilizes commercially available and relatively outdated hardware and software, and "performs" each track "live" (terms in quotes because the press materials seem to posit that these terms have been rendered obsolete) and even improvised certain of them. None of that may be apparent from just listening to Oh. But one can't help be left with a sense that each composition on Oh itself is an iteration, and that Popp has not abandoned iteration as a tool for composition, but instead emphasizes it even more by parsing each one into its own titled song.
Thrill Jockey intended to release Oh June 15 in a limited vinyl edition of 1,000, but the record sold out in pre-orders; the 70-track (HOLY CRAP! -- ed.) double LP O is slated for release September 7. Thrill Jockey has kindly furnished us with a track from O, "Ah!," which you can download below.
Oval -- "Ah!" -- O
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[pre-order O from Thrill Jockey right here]
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