Monday, November 10, 2008

Max Tundra - Parallax Error Beheads You (****)

Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(November 9 - 15, 2008)

It's hard to believe it's been six whole years since Max Tundra dropped the dizzyingly brilliant Mastered by Guy at the Exchange. Even with all the goodwill afforded the electro-pop community in the record's wake, nothing yet has come close to matching Mastered by Guy for sheer pop ingenuity or intricacy. Listening back, it's still a stunning conflation of IDM, glitch, pop and indie-rock, and it all but pointed the way to the ongoing dance-rock renaissance, although the album glitched, twitched and sputtered more than it ever quote-unquote rocked. Those of you looking for Tundra's new record, Parallax Error Beheads You, to follow a similar structural identity to Mastered by Guy will probably leave a little disappointed, as Parallax takes the ADD-addled arrangements of that record and streamlines the approach into 10 fully-formed electro-pop gems.

Gone, for example, are sub one-minute transitional pieces such as the all-build-no-release of "61over", instead replaced with structurally sound, if still spastically arranged, 3 minute pop songs. So Parallax is the most instantly appealing of Tundra's records, as it comparatively takes less chances with sound than Mastered by Guy did (and I'd be lying if said I didn't miss the vocal contributions of Tundra's sister Becky), yet the whole of the record is helped considerably as each successive track builds toward the triumphant 11 minute finale "Until We Die". Parallax flexes it's muscles most during it's opening and closing 3 song stretches. Opener "Gun Chimes" immediately breaks out Tundra's trusty piano and rides a wave of chiming electronics, resulting in a charmingly effective table-setter. The wonderfully titled "Will Get Fooled Again" follows, and perhaps represents the closest Parallax gets to the infectious energy of Mastered by Guy, and I can't help but think of every astute listener and music critic grinning from ear-to-ear when he drops the Halfway to a Threeway reference mid-way through. "Which Song" completes the trifecta, and at 5+ minutes, it stands as Parallex's other successfully lengthy excursion, although you wouldn't know it by the possibly Michael Jackson inspired hook and propulsive bounce which powers the song to great success.

A few shorter tracks fall in the record's mid-section, and these find Tundra experimenting with vocal manipulation on both "Nord Lead Three" and "The Entertainment", the latter of which lends a worthy compliment of "I was born to entertain" to the entire Max Tundra project. Just as it began though, Parallax Error ends with three increasingly strong tracks, with "Number Our Days" and album standout "Glycaemic Index Blues" jolting the listener to attention in anticipation of "Until We Die", 11 propulsive minutes of countless hooks and triumphant build-and-fades. Parallax Error is barely over 40 minutes in length, yet the whole feels much more substantial than the brief run time would suggest.

Mastered by Guy was an unwittingly forward-looking album though, whereas a number of these Parallax songs, while instantly recognizable as the work of Max Tundra, sound like they were born of an attempt to channel the past. So the cheese ball synths and 80s sleek veneer of some of these songs, which could be misread as Tundra tipping his hand a bit too much, actually do a pretty good job of rewriting history. Parallax Error not only made me what to break out my copy of Master by Guy, but it also sends my mind racing equally to images of lost childhood and VH1 "I Love the 80s" specials. It's not quite as blatant and on the-nose as something like Saturdays=Youth though - and with it's never-stand-still approach, it's quite possible some listeners may not even pick up on it's influences - but the fact that the album can be approached from multiple angles speaks to the talents of Tundra. Parallex Error Beheads You doesn't carry with it the same out-of-left-field charm as Mastered By Guy, as Tundra's tricks have permeated the pop landscape to a surprising degree in the interceding years, but when listening to these 10 wonderful songs, there is no arguing who pioneered the sound and who remains the genre's gold standard.

Highlights: "Gum Chimes", "Will Get Fooled Again", "Number Our Days", "Glycaemic Index Blues"

"Gum Chimes"

"Will Get Fooled Again"

"Which Song"

1 comment:

STeve said...

I have a feeling less astute listeners may not realize how original Tundra's music is. You do a good job of sifting through his methods though.