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How Genres Are Like Broken Clocks (MP3s)

Genres don’t die. They just slow down and take root. Ask any current bebop, rockabilly, or drum’n’bass crew. Sometimes the rooting is regional. To dive into the world of electronic music in the former Soviet Union and related territories is to find deep outposts of late-1970s-era fusoid proto-electronica, wafty vapors whose attempt to signify etherealness is at odds with the histrionic drama of chords sturdy enough to use as a hammock. And, increasingly, and perhaps preferably, spending time in Slavic record bins (or their virtual equivalent) also means finding numerous albums that could have been released on the Ninja Tune label during its early heyday, the mid-1990s.

Case in point, the recent album Jazl Mnstr by Enko, aka Enkolf Kitler, who lives in Moscow but was raised and educated in the Ukraine. Heavy on rhythm, it’s drums and bass but not, for the most part, drum’n’bass. Once upon a time this would have had the name Funki Porcini or Amon Tobin on it. Heard at this late date, the emphasis on rhythmic play sounds “post-rock” at times, the way it employs the cornerstones of a band but prods them, probes them, toward their own end, rather than merely utilizing them as a supporting structure for a vocalist.

Of course, like a lot of good post-rock, the band format that Enko is probing isn’t really a rock band at all, but a jazz one. “Kont (JZL)” opens with a round-the-kit drum pattern that’s all loose and world-weary, and little at all changes even as slow strips of synthesized tones get layered atop it (MP3). “Max Mospin” explores similar territory but at roughly half the pace, and the sound is as if it’s being recorded from the other end of an impossibly long rectangular room (MP3). One major treat is the opening track, appropriately titled “Sparking Noise,” that’s all glistening static and notes that proclaim themselves as the penultimate moments of some epiphanic melody, and yet never quite resolve; if a synthesizer were a can of soda, this is what it would sound like when you popped it open (MP3).

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Naysayers can dismiss such genre enclaves as holding patterns, but genres can be like clocks, which even when broken tell the correct time twice a day. For every coolhunter who thinks a certain type of music’s time has come and gone, there’s another noting how such-and-such classic sound is back. (The same can be said of food criticism: “Oh, sushi is so 1980s.” “Oh, comfort food like mashed potatoes and chicken fried steak is suddenly all the rage.”) Hems go up; hems go down. Best to ignore the trendwatchers and appreciate the level of dedication of the parties involved.

Album released on the Bypass netlabel at archive.org. More on Enko at his last.fm page.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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