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Reviews

Vowels
The Pattern Prism Ben Graham , September 2nd, 2009 12:46

If I were in Vowels, I might have decided to call this album Songs in the Key of A and E and I and O and U. Not merely for the sake of a bad pun, but because it seems like it's been constructed in keys previously undiscovered by mortal man. Largely lacking both rhythm and melody, at least in any conventional sense, this alternately challenging and soporific CD consists of a series of sonic events unconnected by cause and effect that nevertheless add up to something surprisingly aesthetically pleasing — beautiful, even.

'Two Wires' is the most conventional track on the album, its hackneyed two-note Neu!-via-Stereolab bassline overlaid with random sci-fi squiggles and squelchy electro handclaps that almost pull it into Daft Punk territory. But while you may have heard it all before, your chakras are still tweaked by the activation of that hoary Teutonic ur-groove; booty-shakin' music for high-domed freaks and bespectacled girls. More typical, though, is 'Appendix', an almost gamelan-like workout for percussion, flute, and a synthesiser firmly set to birdsong and ambient squelch. At times it threatens to coalesce into a New Age Terry Riley excursion, but thankfully is never allowed to get so comfortable; halfway through, the approach of growling low-end synths signal the arrival of some Predator-like invisible carnivore, crashing through the rain forest and eviscerating everything in its path.

The driving space bass and laser effects on 'On Up!' make me think of Sigue Sigue Sputnik trapped in a flotation tank — 'Dub Missile F1-11' as rewired by the Mad Professor, perhaps — while 'Drums Gone Awry' is exactly that: pots and pans gone bonkers, a poltergeist in the echo chamber. It segues straight into 'Eh Uh,' which recalls the Mosquito Chamber at Horton Hospital, Epsom, where syphilitic patients suffering from 'general paralysis of the insane' were deliberately infected with malaria, in the hope that this would in turn attack and cure their madness. The unsuspecting patient was locked in a sealed white room as infected mosquitoes were released, one by one, into the chamber, their buzzing growing louder with the patient's panic. The track's brutal, repetitive noise dissolves eventually into the insensible delirium of malarial fever.

In some ways this album resembles one of those 'magic eye' pictures briefly fashionable in the late nineties, where you had to deliberately blur your vision in order to see the image emerge from an abstract mess. Examined too closely, Vowels' music does indeed break up into pointless, random jottings, fractal doodles and sounds without reason. But take a step back and something else appears; something cohesive, enjoyable, strangely addictive. So maybe Vowels were right. Maybe The Pattern Prism is the right title, after all.

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