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Oval: OvalCommers

AAJ Staff By

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Every new Oval record arrives on the scene with a combined sense of excitement and apprehension. Oval (the performance name of Berliner Markus Popp) has released a string of records over the last ten years, including last year's full-length Ovalprocess—a sprawling masterpiece of studio noise, interrupted and distorted melody tones, and CD skipping noises. But with each new record, Popp invades new sonic territory. Despite all the constant change, his efforts retain a distinctive signature trademark. Each record offers a feeling of order within chaos—melodic sounds and pulsing rhythms battling against their disassembly from within.

Rest assured that OvalCommers offers a fresh and invigorating update to the classic Oval sound. With OvalCommers, Popp abandons his usually immaculate sound assembly—which, if you'll forgive the stereotype, comes across as quite German—for a more spontaneous, pulsing, energetic aura. Clean tones interspersed with clicking/skipping noises share dynamic counterpoint with angular, distorted pulses that fade in and out, changing waveforms just as fast as Popp can modulate his effects fields. Shrill whines and whistles punctuate the pockmarked sonic field, like flashes of light on an extraterrestrial landscape. As usual, the music teeters precariously on the brink of chaos—and that's where it derives its greatest excitement. At times the sheer density and dynamics of these pieces take perplexity to its most distant extremes. But one always retains the sense that Popp has a good idea where he's going, where he's been, and whether or not he'll return. The suspense lasts just long enough for the listener to reach a certain euphoria of discovery, and then it's back into more surging waves of abstract sound. OvalCommers exploits tension-and-release in a purely novel fashion that is nothing short of brilliant.

Not everyone will appreciate OvalCommers. This disc requires an expansively open perspective, plus a generous attention span, to "get" what Oval's trying to do here. But if you're up for taking the plunge, I can't imagine a better Oval record to start with. (And try turning your stereo up—it really helps.) This record is a masterpiece.


Track Listing: Eleven untitled tracks.

Personnel: Markus Popp: composer, performer, producer.

Title: OvalCommers | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Thrill Jockey


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