Monday, 19 December 2011
Review: Gagarin - Adaptogen
Gagarin's album Adaptogen was another one of my blind second hand purchases. I say "blind" in the poker sense of calling a bet without having seen your cards, rather than the sense of buying something without even having seen it. That would be daft. Jumbo, Leeds' premier independent record store, has recently expanded its second hand section and every time I go in I give it a trawl. On this occasion I was in there with a friend, who despite never usually doing this kind of thing, got totally into the idea of second hand trawling. After I explained to her my usual tactics of determining interesting music ("Are there any words about the future or space on the cover?", basically) she triumphantly thrust Adaptogen in my face and insisted I bought it, all on the basis it's named after the first man in space.
Now, this album could have been anything. I looked in the inlay for clues as to the genre, but there was nothing forthcoming. The inlay of an album can tell you a lot about what to expect You can spot a rock album from the inlay immediately because it will say Guitars, Bass, Drums etc, where as an electronic album will usually say Written and Produced By. Other lines like "Additional drum programming by", "Scratching by" or "String arrangements by" or sample clearance information can all tip you off as to what the music within might sound like. Here it just said "All music by Gagarin". Not helpful. The only generic clues I could gather were from the track titles, which comprised of esoteric, one and two-word names like GAVVERS, AB PLAS and 'den BOSCH. This is a hallmark of IDM in particular, and suggested experimental, weird music in general. Whatever, £2.99 isn't much of a gamble, so here we are.
And guess what? Adaptogen is an IDM album, after all. That kids, is how to buy blind. Only trouble with buying blind is that you might be able to precisely pinpoint the potential sound of an album without having heard any of it, but that doesn't mean it's going to be any good. And sadly, Adaptogen is a pretty run-of-the-mill IDM album for the most part. The opening two tracks, Phormium and Golden Cap, run together into one majestically unfolding 10 minute epic that suggests something very special is about to unfold, but sadly most of the rest of the material sounds like a passable imitation of what Warp Records were releasing ten years prior.
There are two approaches to IDM. Some people will use it as a catch-all term for any interesting and experimental electronic music that has suggestions of a clubby origin. Some people will call Trentemoller IDM, for example. This interpretation posits IDM as a potentially infinite genre, that can sound like almost anything. The I may as well stand for "Interesting". The other approach is that IDM is actually quite a specific sound within electronic music, one popularised by the likes of Aphex Twin, Autechre, Plaid, Squarepusher et al. You know that sound, full of glitchy, spasmodic beats and weird melodic passages. Adaptogen is like that, pretty much. And while that sound is undoubtedly extremely out-there compared to 99% of the music you'll hear in day to day life, it's generally dominated by the same moods, the same approaches and ultimately, the same generic markers (the musical equivalent of those short, weird track titles). While this genre is inherently clever-clever and challenging, that doesn't give it a free pass towards being good. It can still sound tired and over-familiar, and it can still sound boring and uninvolving. The opening two tracks here suggest an evocative, wide-screen take on the IDM sound that could be interesting, but sadly Gagarin doesn't really take that idea any further. I'll check out his other music for the promise shown here, but I won't be buying any more of his stuff blind.
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 6/10