Uphill Racer You Will Understand

[Normoton; 2007]

Styles: orchestral electronic, singer-songwriter in space
Others: The Notwist, Thom Yorke, Kevin Shields

Oliver Lichtl is Uphill Racer. He floats, hanging on for dear life to an umbrella. He’s like Mary Poppins, only a drifter amidst electronics, not animatronics. He floats through the skies, shifting higher and lower in the atmosphere. Weather, airwaves, and distance all play a part in his songs. As some of his titles hint, he spirals, rushes feverishly, and in some cases, falls to Earth.

Textures are what indicate Uphill Racer’s current locality. When the electronics, blipping drums, and phasing guitars are prevalent, he’s obviously hitting the far reaches of the exosphere. Chills, shivers, and conniptions occur. This distance is measured most clearly on “Spiral,” “Chons,” and “Falling to the Earth.” Sometimes he floats into outer space, like with “Friend On the Motorway.” His Thom Yorke voice hovers over an invisible surface, like it’s trying to disappear completely. At this great height, stars explode and stellar storms take place. Rain falls and mercurial drizzle penetrates flesh. It can be dangerous. Sometimes Lichtl’s voice is close to grounding and sounds like a chronically depressed Beck.

When things are more organic, when acoustic guitars get strummed, you can gauge the safety. “Nelly Cash,” “Fever Rush,” and “Picture In Picture In Picture In One Pixel” are uppers, all declining toward breathable regions of sky. They are the more pop-oriented moments, a descent in elevation, but an ascent in joy. Clouds clear away and sunshine bounces off your forehead. Bits of recorded voices in conversation lead you to believe radio transmissions can be picked up. You’re not just colliding with satellites anymore.

But nothing compares to the ecstasy of “Close Together,” Uphill Racer’s best performance and balancing act, managing an equal combination of electronic (deep space) and organic (close to dirt) instrumentation and a memorable vocal, all achieved within an approachable constraint of time. It’s what Lichtl should strive for in the future, rather than floating all over everywhere. He should hone in and tether his belt, so as to prevent him from floating away into self-indulgent abstraction.

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