The German experimental ambient artist marshals the same array of computer, synthesizers, guitars and distortion pedals used on his 2010 debut, Lava, and opens with a muffled grumble that might well be churning magma deep in the volcano.
Markus Mehr is certainly leading with his chin by announcing a full-blown trilogy with only one full-length release under his belt. In is the first part, to be followed by On and Off within the year. The German experimental ambient artist marshals the same array of computer, synthesizers, guitars and distortion pedals used on his 2010 debut, Lava, and opens with a muffled grumble that might well be churning magma deep in the volcano.
As “Komo” slowly clarifies in the air, a ravishing string-ensemble loop whirls and dips majestically. It is as romantic and seductive as swaying palms against the blue sky and blue sea of a south Pacific island. The dream idyll is however punctured with a quick, nasty blast of electric guitar, out of which somewhat incongruously emerges the voice of late American counterculture philosopher Terence McKenna. These lumpen guitar blasts proceed to engulf all the scenery. An unnecessarily brutal contrast, it’s not a good choice. In fact, it is a baffling one.
Savage distortion carries over onto “Ostinato” before Mehr’s swaying orchestra shakes off all but a few grains of static caught in its strings and keys. Once again lofty, exalted loops are woven, but the space is now palpably indoors. A piano trill is delicately detourned and a trumpet player practicing over there in the corner provides an idea of the size and acoustics of the “in” Mehr is describing. As the piece wends its way a further twenty minutes, it exercises an increasingly hypnotic pull.
Mehr’s orchestral looping is not new, but it is executed with great dexterity. His treatment of it, though bold, is not necessarily always pleasing. The deep vinyl rumble crumbling to the repetitive toy-piano coda is a much more judicious use of distortion. As the rest of the trilogy unfolds, his big idea may become more apparent. On its own, In is a partial success.