Upland Upland

[Jester; 2002]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: electronica, ambient, glitch
Others: Autechre, Aphex Twin, Oval

I've often likened music to films. For example: the borderline pretentious yet lovable elements to a Todd Solondz film (Happiness, Welcome to the Dollhouse) parallels that of The Flaming Lips; the minimalist qualities and historical importance in Stanley Kubrick films (Eyes Wide Shut, 2001: A Space Odyssey) are in the vein of composer Steve Reich; and the esoteric yet accessible nature of David Lynch films (Mullholland Drive, Blue Velvet) can be linked to Sonic Youth. Then, of course, there are the obvious ones: drama (Celine Deon), comedy (Weird Al), thriller (Michael Jackson), sci-fi (Pink Floyd), avant-garde (John Cage), porn (Britney Spears), action (Limp Bizkit), etc.

In contrast, there are a wealth of differences between music and films. The Flaming Lips are much more out-of-this-world when compared to Todd Solondz; Steve Reich used a different kind of minimalism than Kubrick; and Sonic Youth are not nearly as troubling as David Lynch. But if any group is worthy of the horror movie parallel, it's Upland. Upland's eponymous album is fudge-packed with enough creeping noises and mysterious thuds that you'll want to listen with lights on and door locked. Trying to describe the sounds will make me feel like I'm in 4th grade again, so I'll spare you the "alien" and "weird" adjectives. But just know this: the sounds on Upland are so freakishly tangible that you'll feel as if something is tapping you from behind.

Heaps of electro-acoustic artists have tried combining the organic with the inorganic, and loads of strictly electronic artists have failed to provide any palpable human emotion within its framework. But Upland relinquishes the safety-net of organic instruments and provides an authentic emotion with electronics alone. Though it won't give you a euphoric balloon in the middle of your belly, it will scare the bejesus out of you, taking it one step further than the strict mental candy of similar artists of its kind.

However, being violent and scary is where the comparisons to a horror movie ends. Unlike most horror movies, Upland is neither clichéd or a pastiche, and you can forget about the big in-your-face jugs and nonsensical plotlines: The album is unique and original. Although it's neither groundbreaking nor revolutionary, it provides yet another fresh perspective on how to use the computer as an instrument, sounding like a more tasteful version of Autechre.

It seems the trouble with many electronic artists these days is their lack of variety, many rely on repetition and overall mood to conjure reactions. But Upland procures reactions based on its beautiful variations. The songs jump from rhythmic ("Block") to free-form ("Flex"), from minimal ("Root") to complex ("Marshgate")-- but don't think for a minute that the overall theme is sacrificed. The approach may be different, but the ambience is similar throughout, creating one of the most cohesive electronic albums I've experienced in a long time. Warning: Don't listen alone.

1. Flex
2. Twin gap
3. -nd Falling
4. Root
5. Block
6. Carrier Down
7. Marshgate