Amidst all the frantic changes of the electronic music scene, Aaron Funk has remained something of an inscrutable character. Because his music has always forged an insular path, not bound to trends, he has enjoyed a career longevity unmatched by many of his peers. His reluctance to commodify his own music by releasing it (or writing coherent press releases) has given him a sort of critical kevlar, where the only real critiques leveled against him have had to rely on cross-examination against his own work. Knowing this, it’s remarkable to think about the current path of Venetian Snares, whose latest release My Love Is A Bulldozer jettisons both the eager progress of modern electronic music and his own latent creative trajectory (both the acid-infused, apoplectic Filth and the hyperactive ragga of Detrimentalist suggested a glitchier, more abstract Venetian Snares was on the horizon) in favor of a myopic, break-heavy effort that frustratingly sets the status quo of Funk about 10 years back.
Bulldozer is a litany of tortured love songs, with synths, samples, and sorrowful strings shaping it into a kind of quasi-rock opera — albeit one framed by Venetian Snares rhetoric, which means layering impetuous peals of Amen break solos over everything. It’s a maladroit hybrid of past successes, built with the pieces of his halcyon days — in particular the rhythms of Rossz Csillag Alatt Született, his saddest (and most Hungarian) record, with samples reminiscent of The Chocolate Wheelchair Album and minimalist compositions à la the underrated My Downfall (Original Soundtrack) scattered throughout. Funk adds one new shtick on Bulldozer, borrowed from his collaboration with Joann Pollock on Poemss, offering up his own voice as thematic glue. But apart from that, Bulldozer is essentially just an impersonation of a Snares record circa 2005, masterfully percussed but otherwise unsubstantial.
First, the highlights. “10th Circle Of Winnipeg” is an exemplary opening song, following the tradition of Venetian Snares albums putting their best foot forward. A dichotomous take on drum sampling, it casts spiny snare rushes between sections of foreboding death lounge, all shaky brushwork and cavernous echoes behind snippets of a jazz singer whose cries of “This world is over/ There’s nothing left” evoke a similarly well-utilized vocalist from Funk’s repertoire. (It also serves as a useful reminder that, ahem, Winnipeg is a shithole.) “1000 Years” is the most relentless song on the album, pummeling itself into a k-hole of mutant rolls and giving Funk’s best vocal performance of the record, which longs in a juvenile baritone for an unnamed paramour (best line: “I tore evil wizards in half/ To bring you my love”) before collapsing to the usual fervor of warped staccato beats and spastic filter abuse.
Elsewhere, the record sputters out. “Your Smiling Face” is a sterile scream into the void, a peremptory moan that strains well out of range against unpalatable sparseness. Likewise, “My Love Is A Bulldozer” begins promising, with organic swells interpolated by creepy 8-bit melodies, but Funk’s incongruously crude singing kills whatever momentum it had built up, and the ending seems to come from somewhere else altogether. Diminishing returns mount as further stomps on the Amen sample beget nothing new and the lyrics (which are purposefully puerile) begin to irritate. This can be expected from Funk, whose obsession with the grotesque is well established, but debasing the title track with a line like “Only you/ Can make my dick feel like this” disappoints more than it shocks. It isn’t as meticulously depraved as an album made entirely with the sounds of sex or as ornately morbid as Trevor Brown’s album covers. It’s just an afterthought, crudeness in abstentia. There appears to be no interest in capturing any mood by strategy, only through rigid placement of signifiers: here’s a sweep, here’s a buzz, here’s a break, here’s a dick joke.
As electronic composition grows more specialized and the gap between inspiration and creation shrinks, modern producers can do more interesting things with the tools available than they could in the past. Funk has made it known before that he basically doesn’t care about where music is headed. In fact, a lot of the Venetian Snares mythos focuses on how little of a fuck he gives — a survivor’s attitude if there ever was one in the age of digital scrutiny — and Bulldozer is viciously indifferent to how lapsed it sounds. But if this meek recidivism is the end result of being a musical hermit, maybe it couldn’t hurt to leave the cave once in a while? In 2014, having dismantled the myths of the sample, the beat, the song, and having opened up every possibility for new ideas, is there any question why My Love Is A Bulldozer’s stubborn conventions feel a little lacking?