Lithops Ye Viols!

[Thrill Jockey; 2009]

Styles: installation art, electronica
Others: Mouse on Mars, Microstoria, Oval

Upon Googling “Lithops” for more information about Ye Viols!, several results appeared, none of which had anything to do with the album. Apparently, Lithops are plants that thrive in the barren desert regions of South Africa and Namibia, and their outer coverings resemble stones. Lithops, however, is also the solo guise of Jan St. Werner -- member of Mouse on Mars, Von Südenfed, and Microstoria -- and the pieces comprising Ye Viols! were created to accompany various installations and dance works by David Maljkovic, Rosa Barba, Illui Nanobac, and Lee Yaung.

As it happens, the curious lithops plant serves as an appropriate metaphor for the music of Jan St. Werner. Beneath the austere surface of each song lies a vibrant human core: “Inductech” was crafted as the score of a modern dance piece, and “Bacchus” was used to soundtrack a series of collages that conveyed the collapse of the ego. And even beneath the harsh, synthesized square waves of “Handed,” you can imagine a human hand manipulating oscillators, creating constantly evolving rhythmic variations.

While much of the music Jan St. Werner creates with Andi Toma as Mouse on Mars is highly accessible and playful, his work as Lithops veers toward the more ominous and mysterious. “In nitro,” for example, features dull pounding and strident metal scraping in a cavernous, resonating chamber, while the claustrophobic “Bacchus” sees St. Werner wrangling violent feedback and white noise into submission. While mostly dark and ambient, the album also features some interestingly beat-driven tracks that are near-danceable.

Admittedly, there's a lack of cohesion among these songs (each one is culled from several very disparate sources) and most are likely too abstract for fans of, say, Mouse on Mars. Ye Viols! does, however, contain some undeniably fascinating sounds and atmospheres for those looking for a more challenging listen.

1. Graf
2. Handed
3. Sebquenz
4. 21.jhrdt
5. In Nitro
6. Apps 1
7. Apps 2
8. Bacchus
9. Penrose Ave
10. Inductech
11. Wammo

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