30 October (Safety Records)
By Josh Hughes
an elemental symbol within an agreed set of symbols, intended to represent a readable character for the purposes of writing and thereby expressing thoughts, ideas, and concepts. As such, glyphs are considered to be unique marks that collectively add up to the spelling of a word, or otherwise contribute to a specific meaning of what is written, with that meaning dependent on cultural and social usage.
The debut album by Chicago electronic outfit Avvenir opens with swelling synths akin to a 1990’s contemporary art gallery or the latest Wild Beasts single. The track, titled “Magenta”, sets up the album’s continual themes of human connection and relatability, and it’s an immediate highlight. Joel Ebner (also of City States and Contretemps) understands very clearly that there is always a fluid interaction between that of the natural and authentic with that of the mechanical and recreatable. Sometimes, more often than we think, the two go hand in hand.
The opening techno glitz of “Magenta” gradually shifts and distorts the musical complexities that lie hidden within it, ultimately leaving the listener with a beautifully melodic tantrum. As with tracks like “Univers” later on Glyphs, it begins to dissect itself and throw around sonic glitches, contorted snares, and pitched up percussion. It is important that all of this goes on around Ebner’s central melodies, because the songs never lose footing amidst their impending chaos.
Ebner continually draws heavily from prolific 90’s artists like Aphex Twin, but the result is more of an homage than a rehash. In this way, Glyphs finds itself rooted in a lost path of electronica that conjures images of Y2K, the birth of the yuppy, fluorescent lighting, and office desks. Twenty years removed from the onset of this music, Avvenir allow a fresh look at experimental techno by revitalizing the significance of communication. The tracks all have strong imprints of something created by a living individual, but they embrace and experiment with heavily industrial sounds without criticizing them.
Without any lyrics, the album centralizes ideas of communication and language– hell, the album cover is a jumbled mix of actual glyphs, and all the track titles refer to font type, modernism, or computer languages. Even the phonetically pleasing “Magenta” when taken in context with the rest of the album comes across as artificial; by the time “PostScript” comes around, Glyphs’ commentary on the “modern” world is in full swing. Maybe it’s more about the “post-modern” world, or the “post-post-modern” world. You get the overall idea.
Taken as a whole, Glyphs is a technically impressive feat, and with appropriate headphones, also an audio engineer’s dream. Ebner takes some cues from contemporary artists like Andy Stott and even Arca, who both utilize the divide between manmade and artificial to its fullest extent. Glyphs constantly sounds amazing, and the idea behind the content is interesting enough to fill a whole album without any spoken language. Certain tracks like “Late Modern” verge on luxurious with its seven minute running time, but moments like this never detract from the overall statement or the consistently strong melodies. By the time “Für Immer” arrives at the end of the album, the beats have dropped out completely and we’re left with a haunting array of synth chords and arpeggios. While not an exhausting listen, the song is a necessary break from the rest of Glyphs, and gives the listener a few minutes of introspection before they’re fully dragged out of Ebner’s world of machines and MIDIs.
Fave Tracks: “Magenta”, “Prepress”, “Für Immer”