Comfortably experimental and laced with manipulated vocal samples and the occasional catchy beat, Schmaidl’s “Between Awe and Rawness” is an album that is sometimes a little hard for me to wrap my head around, but it keeps making me need to listen more to suss out what I’m digging about it. Some pieces hook me more than others, but all of them offer something to think about. NASA radio chatter from a liftoff makes up the core of the opening piece, “Forward Mobility,” laid in over a steady and springy two-note bass pulse. It’s one of those pieces that finds its strength in a minimal simplicity, with fresh elements carefully laid in. It never reaches any kind of notable density, but lets the spoken piece do most of the heavy lifting. After takeoff, Schmaidl plays with its tempo, stretching just a little. If you can stand the fact that the dominant background sound in “Heartbeat” sounds less like a heart and more like a busy signal that refuses to give up, you’ll eventually (a bit too long in coming for this listener) hear it gel rhythmically with the sounds and lines around it. The latter sounds are light and glistening, floating things playing around that anchoring tone. The locomotive rhythms of “River 1997” evolve into a suggestion of 80s electro-pop, thanks to the inclusion of a sharp clapping track. Once again, the piece is simple at a surface level, but that simplicity also forms an effective hook. By contrast, the heavy plod of “Cities,” which precedes it, works perhaps not quite as effectively, but something its hammer-fall insistence kind of works for me. The only place where Schmaidl runs the risk of losing me completely is in the high-velocity, dissonant piano tangle of “Rearward Tension.” Glitch percussion speeds along beneath it, trying to keep pace.It’s just too frenetic for me to get into, especially as compared to the slower, less complicated pieces around it.
While Between Awe and Rawness is not an album I need to hurry back to, based on my own tastes, its ever-changing nature, the scope of approaches from track to track, and the thought-provoking sound palette make it a very interesting listen. It’s not for everyone, certainly, and it does go a little heavy on the vocal drops, but if you’re into music you’re going to want to think about while you’re in it, give this a listen.
Available from The Committee for Sonic Research.