Has Make Mine Music jumped the shark? A few years ago i ate up everything this collective released, and found it all engaging and fun. But lately i haven't been enjoying their releases that much. I am not exactly sure why, but i have a theory.
MMM is a collective, meaning that it is not run like a business. Each artist works with the organization to make sure that their music is released. No one is "in charge". Another way of saying that is there is no "voice of reason". There is no one to listen to an artist's output and say, as we do in The South, "No, pumpkin, no." I guess what i am hinting at here is that there is an implied lack of quality control in their business model.
As a Hovering Insect Mass Breaks Your Fall is completely symptomatic of this. This album explores several interesting ideas, fluctuating from laptoptronic sampled pop to light guitar rock and back again, often within the same "song". You see, this release sounds like it was prepared to be one long 47 minute mix, and then it was arbitrarily chopped into 6 "songs". Seriously, each "song" goes through several movements, and even after several listens i am unclear as to why the groupings exist as they do.
Let me describe the music, and perhaps you will see what i mean.
Things start off simply enough with Vel Kvonen, in which deep sounds rumble for a few minutes, then fade out to a light keyboard part accompanied by a male voice singing very dramatically in, i am guessing here, Swedish. The male voice fades out, and we are into the second track, Vraikan Sundan, which begins with a female voice and layers of tinkling keys. The female voice is layered several times, each layer singing a different part, like this is a roundel with only one person singing all the parts. It's really lovely, and the tinkling sounds are eventually replaced by a simple organ. After six minutes, the voice fades out and is replaced by some type of horn doing the same general melody. That's kind of interesting. Then, suddenly and randomly, there is a wash of static and Mr. Dramatic Voice from track one is back, the layers of female voice here seeming to be his back-up singers. Then all of that is slowly swallowed by static, which parts to reveal some type of techno song under the static. Whew.
As the static fades out we suddenly find ourselves in the third track, which is called Landfall. The static fades into some wind chimes and then some eerie rumbling clattering sounds, like a dark industrial song. This meanders along in general Skinny Puppy-ish-ness for a minute or so, then suddenly all the sounds are swallowed up by an echo that makes it all seem like everything is underwater. The water sounds fade and a mournful keyboard and gaspy breath come in, and eventually the industrial percussion is back.
That clattering percussion bleeds over into Crumbling Spires, where a male British voice raps. The rap and industrial clattering fade out to be replaced by a heavily manipulated female voice. She is accompanied by some lovely guitarwork and chugging percussion. Her voice fades out and then a different one comes in. Then a British voice just speaking in different layers is added on top of that, and suddenly the song is so dense that i don't know what is happening. Fortunately everything calms back down again and the track becomes a mellow electronica song of the type that MMM used to do, but that only lasts for a minute or two. There are some great sections to this song, but overall it is too messy.
Wingbeat Fission starts promisingly, with the IDM from the end of the last track fading out to chiming guitar and light vocals, like something by Epic45. However, as soon as it comes on i look at the Zune and see it is a 14 minute track, and i am sure that this pleasant interlude will last only a fraction of that time. Sure enough, after 5 minutes it becomes a funky electro song, with a wobbling bass sample and the vocals from the first part of the song all cut and mangled. The singing gets normal again, and the tune rocks out for a while, only to be swallowed by samples of many insects buzzing. To be honest, this part of this song gives me the creeps, and it goes on for two whole minutes. Eww! The insects fade out and there is a female voice speaking in some language i am not familiar with while an organ meanders the same general melody as before.
And finally we have Your Life Was But a Trick of the Light which is two minutes that sound like Epic45, or July Skies. It is a mercifully un-schizophrenic end to this release.
I find listening to As a Hovering Insect Mass Breaks You Fall to be an exhausting experience. I think that someone at the MMM collecting needed to sit Mr. Brewster down and say, "James, dude, listen -- your songs jump all over the place. Simplify things a little. You don't need to explore every idea you have about every song. Quite often, less is more."
There are some really lovely moments here, but they are spaced out strangely and not easy to get through without having to listen to some other more boring and yet seemingly unrelated part of the same song. This is a real problem for me. As someone who loads everything onto an MP3 player and listens on shuffle, these songs break up any flow and don't really work on their own. And experience has shown me that a lot of people listen like that these days.
Still, Brewster does have some good ideas. Hopefully he will calm down some on his next release and simplify his songs, allowing them some room to grow and breathe on their own. And i hope that MMM takes some time to look at how they operate and consider some type of quality control. It could be as simple as peer review. Heck, if Yellow6 had listened to a draft of this record, he might have been able to explain the "less is more" concept, since that pretty much defines Yellow6 releases these days.