Sometimes, the best thing to do with beats and atmospheres is to keep them at a proper distance. That’s the mode on Nowcast, a six-track album by the economically named 2% (his government name is Trenton McElhinney). The album is a collection of ethereal hazes and downtempo rhythms, a bit like DJ Krush covering Tangerine Dream — or perhaps the other way around. McElhinney reportedly recorded the entire thing on a Monome, the illuminated grid of touch-sensitive controllers that is often conflated or confused with the Tenori-On. There’s a video up on vimeo.com (screen shot below) of McElhinney performing one of the tracks off Nowcast, “Leeward” (MP3), on the Monome; it opens with a Buddha Machine”“like loop — which is to say, a soft haze that slowly reveals itself to have a taut, specific seam, which in turn becomes a sort of beat, which McElhinney then reinforces with a studio-hewn beat of his own construction, all machine-made high-hats.
The one real exception to this beats/haze combination is the last track, the elegant “Neaps,” which drops the metrics almost entirely in favor of a lightly cycling soundscape (MP3). It’s a testament to McElhinney’s background sounds that when the beats are removed, the ambience can hold its own.