Far too often, the search for new music becomes absorbed by the cultural obsession with youth. Buzz for the next big things blaze across the blogosphere like shooting stars, even before the artist has released anything substantial or performed live. Meanwhile, there is an artist out there like Phil Western, an artist who has paid his dues time and again, yet never seems to receive the credit he deserves. As a percussionist, producer, and jack-of-all-musical-trades, Western has been a fixture in the West Coast electronic music scene since the early 90s. He has played keys for Skinny Puppy, engineered or remix engineered everyone from Bryan Adams to Nine Inch Nails, mixed live sound for the Waldorf and Fox Cabaret, ran his own record label, released nine albums under his own name, and collaborated with cEvin Key as both Download and PlatEAU, projects that have produced over a dozen EPs and LPs combined, alongside countless other collabs and projects.
Thumbing his nose at the dulling blade of the industry, his latest album, Longform, is also his most ambitious. It’s a sprawling double album, suitably framed by the graffiti collage artwork of Ronan Boyle. The music carries a sense of worldly wisdom and wide-eyed awe, a sound that could have only been made by him now. Western’s early recordings were, admittedly, produced with heavy influence from altered states of consciousness. But since he quit smoking pot, he has been exploring a natural approach to creative inspiration, re-evaluating his mojo, as it were. As a result, Longform reflects a fantastic sense of self, of newfound composure, while the haze of psychedelic ecstasy still clings to his analog soundscapes. You can learn a lot from flashbacks.
Where his earlier albums were marked by a tumultuous spirit and eccentric variety, with rock and ambient tracks rubbing shoulders with noise collage and IDM, the heart of Longform beats a metropolitan groove. Taking influence from Kraftwerk and early-80s Brian Eno, there is an emphasis on minimalist repetition and constant evolution, produced with pre-noise war dynamic range with vintage instruments to allow for natural emotional resonance. Although much of it is in a menacing breakbeat and electro house vein, it invites introspection, the kind of otherworldly nostalgia that come with perusing pictures of Pripyat.
Considering the album as form, Western shows less concern for Beatport skimming DJs and more of a desire to produce something he can truly be proud of, something that will stand the test of time. Whether the album will finally earn his place in the higher plane of the buzz-o-sphere is unlikely, but Phil Western certainly succeeded in creating his best work yet.