Four years have passed since The Berg Sans Nipple first caught our eye with Along the Quai, with only a lonely EP to tide us over in all that time. While the intervening years have done little to make their band name any less terrible, it has apparently afforded the Franco-American duo with an opportunity to rethink their approach to their craft. The album’s press release boasts of a more incremental song writing process (necessitated, in part, by the fact that members Lori Sean Berg and Shane Aspegren currently reside on separate continents), with the two men exchanging song fragments and spending months tinkering with them. The resulting album is densely arranged but surprisingly accessible, trading the sprawling abstract soundscapes that dominated a good portion of their previous releases for a heavier dose of avant pop.
The ability to seamlessly elide genres is practically a prerequisite for any artist in today’s savage, postmodern musical landscape, but TBSN really excel at incorporating sounds and techniques from various disciplines into a coherent whole. Hip-hop back-beats butt heads with gamelan percussion. Trip-hop keyboard lines drown in dub reverb. Dubstep production dissolves into post-punk electronic breakdowns. As a result of this more song-oriented approach, Build with Erosion finds Aspegren’s vocals assuming a more prominent place in the mix. Fortunately, TBSN keep things interesting, subjecting Aspegren’s voice to the same kinds of tweaks and manipulations as every other sound on the album, giving birth to the chopped, cut-and-paste delivery of “Change the Shape” or the watery, echo-drenched dub of the title track. In certain cases, like “Le Cadavre Exquis” or “All People,” the spoken lines are abused to the point that that they cease to read as language at all and just become another element of the melody.
All of these aspects make Build with Erosion a consistently engaging experience. A lot of the songs that pop the most for me come in the first two-thirds of the album, with the longer tracks at the end causing things to drag a little going in to the home stretch. (“Pink Rays Sugar,” the album’s only true misfire, seems like a particularly baffling way to bring a set like this to a close.) The polish and density of arrangement gives a good account of the group’s low profile since Along the Quai, but the relentless tinkering creates an emotional distance between artist and audience that their carefully constructed hooks can’t quite bridge. The result is an experimental pop album that’s easy to appreciate, but difficult to fully connect with.