[Ed. Note: The artist removed this release from Jamendo, and moved to BandCamp. His licensing on BandCamp is no longer Creative Commons, so I won’t link to the release any longer. And because of this change, the release is automatically assessed a 0.]
I have to say that I was initially skeptical about this release on Jamendo: it was another case where the artist solicited a review of his work. If you recall, I ended up writing a somewhat mixed review (see Bielebny: Punxsutawney). Yet, this artists request was quite courteous and drew my interest. But, in another turn, as I looked at the release page, I noticed several things: (1) this release has been out for over six months, (2) the artist got into a debate with a listener over “spamming” for reviews (what I term “solicitations”), and (3) the artist has over 100 reviews, in seven languages. So, is history repeating itself? Am I writing another mixed review? Do I have issues with the “solicitation”? Do I have issues with the “spam” debate?
Of Spam and Solicitations After my previous experience writing a review based on a solicitation, I was leaning towards having a rule of not reviewing anything based on solicitation. I am still considering this rule, but may be backing off it a bit with a modified version of the rule: No releases over three months old. No releases with over 20 reviews. The solicitation either (a) must not just be a review request, or (b) has to make me feel that I was targeted specifically, instead of just some random person. Or something along those lines. Why? There are a lot of artists releasing material on Jamendo. What should the selection criteria be for selecting releases to review? I’ve been leaning towards something along these lines: Must have been released within the last 30 days. Must be at least 20 minutes long or contain at least 5 tracks (ie, no “singles”). Must carry a Creative Commons license, Free Art License, or be placed in the Public Domain. This would, in my opinion, set a pretty level playing field. I am, after all, only one person, and listening to and reviewing a lot of material isn’t as easy as it appears. However, I am still debating all of this internally. I’m also considering a modified version of these rules. And then, something like OG’s 01 comes along to challenge me by breaking the rules I have been considering. And, to make matters worse, there was the debate with one of the listeners mixed into the reviews for this release. Honestly, OG doesn’t come across very well on first reading of his comments. He sounds quite self centered and condescending, and that took me a bit to get past. It was only when I realized (a) he literally wasn’t wrong, and (b) his social environment might contribute to a different approach / manner of communication, that I decided I should listen to his work.
Listening to 01 Napoleon said “a picture is worth a thousand words”, OG’s 01 is a case where a thousand words cannot sufficiently describe the work. I could analyze each track: list the influences, tell you what’s unique, etc. And that still wouldn’t be sufficient to give you the impression of the overall listening experience. Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on my words. There’s a play button at the top of this review. If you haven’t pressed it already, I highly recommend doing so, and read the rest of this review while listening. This is one of the styles of trip-hop I really like. The dark sounds make me feel like I am in a dream that is on the finest razor’s edge of turning into a nightmare. I love the artists use of strings to add a cinematic sweep to several of the pieces. I like the way some of the melodies have an angular and edgy feel to them (check “Rachael” for this one). OG has a way of starting with a simple melodic hook, adding a rhythm to it, and then building a piece until it moves you to a new level, a new perspective, and then brings you back to where it all started. This is an artist that is doing more than just playing with the standard sounds and textures that are almost pre-requisites of the trip-hop, drum-n-bass and dub styles. OG has recognized that every rhythmic element, sound texture, and structural element is a tool in his kit, and he’s recognized that each one can be used to a different effect. Take “Smoking Teapot” as an example: the track opens with a pizzicato string string phrase paralleled by bells. He counter points the strings with a keyboard line very subtly, and adds a submarine’s sonar sound as another layer of counterpoint. The overall affect is a very dance-able rhythmic track. But, he doesn’t stop there, soon the pizzicato strings drop out, other elements are woven into the fabric of the piece, then finally a small electronic drum kit is added to the mix to provide a rhythmic base. He spins into a variation on the original theme, getting paint new counterpoint and melodic elements on the canvas, then brings us back to the original pizzicato strings for the conclusion of the piece. It’s this kind of auditory painting or film-making that we get to experience first hand throughout this release. From start to finish, this release is relentless in it’s inspired forms and well controlled composition. The artist isn’t indulgently using his tools, just for the sake of creating something and saying “look at what I can do.” Instead, this is an artist that looks at the world around him, then applies all his tools to create forms, structures, textures, and melodies for us to experience his perspective. For eighteen pieces, and over seventy six minutes, we are cast into a world that reveals as much about ourselves and how we experience the panoramic of life as it does about the perspective of the artist himself. This is a release that is as much about the experience you have while listening to it, as it is about the perspective the artist brings to the pieces.
The License If I thought the artist was a little self-centered from the comments mentioned above, I had to re-evaluate that position when I looked at his license choice: CC BY-NC. In choosing this license, the artist has added another element to his art to me. He feels confident enough that his pieces have value, and wants to (quite deservedly) be compensated for that value. He doesn’t want to be taken advantage of for someone else’s commercial profiteering. But, it’s the clauses that he didn’t chose that speak louder than the ones that he did chose. By not selecting the ND or SA clauses OG is making a statement: here is my work, I want the artistic dialogue to expand and include my work, so you may build on it. And, I won’t restrict how you release your works. At least, that’s my interpretation of his choice, and it’s one that I think he should be applauded for. Indeed, he deserves equal credit for his license choice as he does for the music itself.
Summary I was skeptical when I approached this release. Being solicited for a review is tricky ground, combine that with the perspective I had from looking at the comments and reviews OG had already received, and I thought I was in for a tough time reviewing this release. The saying “never judge a book by it’s cover” comes to mind however based on what I found when I listened to the release. It’s a wonderful trip through a dark psyche which reveals as much about the listener’s perspective as it does about the artist. It’s a trip that moves from beginning to end and bears repeated listening. This recording not only exceeded my expectations, but rather shattered them. This recording is highly download and donation worthy: this artist needs to be encouraged to keep releasing works that meet this experience level for listeners.