Octopus Project

(Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Identification Parade (2002), 7/10
One Ten Hundred Thousand Million (2005), 6/10
Hello Avalanche (2007), 6.5/10
Hexadecagon (2010), 6/10

Octopus Project, an all instrumental and mostly electronic trio (Josh Lambert, Toto Miranda, Yvonne Lambert) hailing from Austin (Texas), concocted an unlikely acrobatic fusion of German prog-rock, new wave, post-rock, techno and electroclash on Identification Parade (Peek-A-Boo, 2002). The glacial xylophone-driven futuristic lounge music a` la Stereolab of What They Found and the "theatre of the absurd" of Rorol, a duet between a guitar melody and a squealing theremin over a panting beat, create a warmly lunatic atmosphere from the onset. The steady beat and the synthetic melody of The Way Things Go release the tension, presenting the playful side of the project, a sort of Love Of Life Orchestra for the dubstep era and fellow travelers of postmodern disco jokers !!!. It is, however, only a false alarm, as the the Neu-like motorik drums and headbanging guitar crescendo of Righteous Ape And Bird proves, as does the similar bacchanal of galactic signals and forceful drumming of Crying At The Aquarium. The slow-motion gamelan adagio of Marshall Examines His Carcass further disorients, especially when contrasted with the cabaret-tish skit Porno Disaster. Hypnopaedia is a sublime last act of their "theatre of the absurd" a mournful organ drone teeming with alien voices. This eclectic parade is cohesive despite taking hints from a plethora of disparate styles and masters across the ages. And it could be the first collection of moody futuristic instrumentals that does not evoke the name of Brian Eno, a sign that the future has finally come.

The galvanizing electronic riff and pulverizing drumming of Exit Counselor announced One Ten Hundred Thousand Million (2005) a more aggressive and extroverted aesthetic that in fact develops through the thick melasse of The Adjustor built around its tinkling xylophone melody, replete with digital glitches, the escalating drum'n'bass raid All Of The Champs That Ever Lived, that ends in a space-rock jam, the rocking carillon of Music Is Happiness, the thundering (and a bit dumb) Tuxedo Hat, and the incandescent guitar boogie Six Feet Up. The glitchy musique concrete Responsible Stu and the nightmarish collage of Malaria Codes hark back to the most extreme ideas of the previous album. What is missing is the middleground that made that album so magic. The standout is the deconstructed country gallop and guitar twang of Hold The Ladder, that is as solitary a piece as it can be here.

The House of Apples and Eyeballs (2006) was a collaboration with Black Moth Super Rainbow.

The "punk" element of One Ten Hundred Thousand Million was further cultivated by Hello Avalanche (2007) in the robotic frenzy of Truck (one of their funniest jokes) and in the wild Brazilian batucada with heavy-metal onslaught of Ghost Moves; but in general the emphasis seems to be shifting towards providing a more melodic center of mass to "songs" such as An Evening With Rthrtha (the singing voice being that of the synth or theremin, supported by shoegazing-style distorted guitar, Vanishing Lessons (basically a Neapolitan aria driven by a mandolin-like organ), and I Saw The Bright Shinies (a Hawaian elegy and another nod to the Penguin Cafè Orchestra). Alas, they even try to sing (Queen). The eccentric ambient forays have been replaced by inconsequential intermezzos: marimba and theremin sculpt the nostalgic atmosphere of Snow Tip Cap Mountain in the vein of the Penguin Cafè Orchestra; the synth bouces around a childish nursery rhyme in Black Blizzard Red Umbrella; the reverbs and tinkles of Upmann evoke the summer beaches of the 1960s, like a digital remix of an old Farfisa-based ditty; etc. Like on the previous album, one of the standouts is a piece that seems to belong to another album and another band: the irresistible dance novelty Mmaj.

The EP Golden Bends (2009) experimented with rock music and singing. As a consequence, the ambitious multimedia installation Hexadecagon (Peek-A-Boo, 2010) relied a lot more on guitars, bass and drums than any of the previous albums. It also (mainly?) boasted a much slicker and smoother production. Fuguefat is a rock band applying Steve Reich's shifting minimalist repetition. The eleven-minute Circling restarts from there and accelerates the rhythm to hysterical speed while introducing a secondary and much more melodic piano pattern. Alas, it doesn't quite know where to go from there and so it spends several minutes fading out. The best incursion in minimalism takes place in Glass Jungle, a festive fanfare that is more reminiscent of Michael Nyman than of Philip Glass (after whom it is titled). There is both less creativity and less eccentricity at work in these "austere" pieces. One can only miss the spontaneous imagination of the first album. A bit of it surfaces in the nursery-school jig Korakrit. A Phantasy, a compromise between yesterday's magic and today's reality, ends up sounding like the mythological prog-rock suites of the 1970s. Besides the general dearth of cute ideas to animate their quasi-religious conversion to minimalism, this album continues the trend away from the art of toying with timbres. The Octopus Project has transitioned from haphazard hippie-like anarchy to resolute army-like discipline. Luckily, it is rescued by the two last pieces: the "singing" quality that infected the previous album blossoms in Hallucinists, that emerges out of another minimalist orgy, although this time peppered with Hawaian overtones, and in Catalog, that also recycles the passion for the Sixties.

(Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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