It seems that everything about this album is designed to confuse and confound expectations. The duo’s chosen name suggests that it should perhaps be found in the rock or metal section of the music shop, the cover is wilfully non-committal but sort of leans towards the anti-cool stance of 90’s alternative bands. But the fact that the album is released by The Black Record Company, the same people who are responsible for the gorgeous, minimal, musical machinations of Floating Beauty reaching a wider audience, makes me want to ignore such false signalling and dive headlong in.
Even when you get to the music Yvonne Nussbaum’s plaintive and drawn out piano notes and Jorg A. Schneider’s chaotic drum skittering present you with a pretty challenging first step in the musical collisions that are Up Close and Personal. But what would you expect from musicians who have spent the last thirty years usurping convention and exploring all sorts of more extreme and experimental paths? But get past that and things settle down…a bit, though this clashing of utterly gorgeous and understated piano with percussive rhythms and drum patterns that seem to undermine them, are never far from the surface.
I have to confess that whilst tracks such as Midheaven, which sees the drums heading more in a direction complementary to the broken riffs and staccato melodies above it, much of what is found here can be hard to absorb. But that is obviously the point, the juxtaposition of such haunting and cinematic music and often seemingly directionless beats behind it is a statement in itself. It perhaps suggests that beauty and chaos, focus and confusion, textures and tears are yin’s to each other’s yangs.
Falconer pushes things into even stranger territory, where glitchy electronica and broken rhythms mix with the classical piano cascades into a strange futuristic sound, maybe suggesting that a computer, having reached self-awareness has tried to write music from found files, mathematical formula and clinical leaps of faith. And it is questions like this that the music forces you to ask. It challenges you to meditate on what music even is, where human composition ends and something more hive minded might begin, to dwell on concepts like melody, harmony and beauty and to try and understand why some sounds are more appealing than others.
Ever since that famous thought experiment where a violin was tied to a length of string and dragged down a gravel path, the argument around what music is, and more importantly what it can be, has been a heated place. In some ways the music found here is that same discussion only presented in a more interesting and palatable fashion.
Life is challenging, so why shouldn’t music be?