New Clear Days
ike many English majors, I don’t remember much from physics. In high school, I was too busy adding up the four shirts, two ties, and two pairs of pants combos that my Steve Jobsian teacher used to pair together across the week. An exercise in factorial dynamics, I suppose. In college, I spent a good portion of my time shirking science requirements in favor of Victorian literature or on the Beat generation. So, in looking over the newest album by the Rip Off Artist (aka Matt Haines, owner of the Inflatabl Labl), New Clear Days, I was uneasy with its basic division into three subatomical sections: protons, neutrons, and electrons. Fortunately, one quick trip through the album spoke to me in a language I seem to recall; this is utterly fascinating IDM, if that’s a term the kiddies still find acceptable. You tell me. It’s been a while.
The first section, protons, jars teeth loose for seven tracks, danceable only for those whose joints are out of socket and whose limbs are porous and breakable. Unlike its namesake, these tracks are anything but stable. The slow juggernaut of machinery builds into what, in a land built of sprockets, might just be considered dance grooves. Bass-heavy throbs meet each other headfirst, and groaning pings of static snarl from mechanical mouths. “The Hot Hot Head of Fusion” contains what are almost tech breaks, as the disc seems to skip backwards to get a word in edgewise; glowing synths and beats ground through a dispose-all highlight the supremely funky “Hello, neutrinos!”. Yet, through all this jagged technology, a melody, a semblance of consistent rhythm, seems to assemble itself from the spilled parts. Like so much of this genre, ideas are snagged from the bionic ether and made to fit the whimsy of modern technology, but they wouldn’t fuse together without some subtle rhythms, something dependable and classifiable, to pin the listener down. The Rip Off Artist has plenty of fascinating beats to go around, and they’re usually the kind that tap into your reflexes before your head. Those with pacemakers would be well-advised to stand clear, lest they find themselves jerking, twitching and spilling forth solemn street-oaths like they’ve got Tourette’s.
As the neutrons section begins, The Rip Off Artist gives the processors time to cool off. “Alpha Particles, Part 1” starts with hip-hop scratching, as a calm wintery tone pulsates in the background. Pinging static and subtle dub-like reverberations bubble away in the distance. Ambient washes of feedback cover the tracks like fine dust until “Gamma Rays” rises with the robotic voices of a mob uprising, and you find yourself seeking cover under its dense metallic throb.
The surge segues seamlessly into the disc’s final section, electrons. Similar to the first in pacing and tone, the mechanical opera ensues anew. Jumpy beats and hyperactive glitchwork forge into great latticeworks of rhythm and steel, but here The Rip Off Artist occasionally finds himself trapped in his own construction. “Yellowcake” is too hyperactive, and given the peculiar precision of the album’s beat-damaged sequencing, there’s too much going on; “Fall in for the Fallout” is similarly top-heavy, and it winds up stumbling over its feet early.
Haines doesn’t do this often, though—his overactive imagination keeps things moving quickly. So: forget the physics. There’s more science fiction here than science. On New Clear Days, the machines are left to build a guild of their own. Failing that, they shall remain lawless. As the rust scrapes at their joints and the tarnish fades, the Rip Off Artist is there to join in their vagrancy and grind out a dance.