promised land cover art
promised land cover art. You eerie, light-footedly stomping beauty. The cover befits the album.

I have known Groj, or Kevin Jamey rather, for a good three years now, as long as I know my new home Montréal. In fact, he was one of the first people I got to know arriving, and I am happy to still know him – and that still he didn’t simply move away. I am not laying this out here for reasons of sentimentality or nostalgia, but because this allowed me to witness some of Kevin’s growth process as a musician and producer. I also got a unique and wonderful view into the culture and processes related to actually releasing electronic music. Numerous discussions made me realize that producing and releasing music at the core of it is not so different from doing science, and publishing about it: you play around first not even knowing what you are even doing and why, make a lot of mistakes, do variations of more famous folks’ stuff, you give a lot of talks/sets without pay, and at some point you realize your stuff is actually out there – but with all the work, you missed that the great moment actually just passed. In this sense, I also realized that the Groj productions have more in common with parts of my scientific approach than I would have thought musical and scientific “production” could have. To cut a long story short, beginning of this year I was lucky enough to get my hands on a pre-release of Groj’s debut album “promised land”, it drops 8th of February on box records, you can pre-order and get the CD sent right home, it has a nice matte gray finish by the way. This release is also the first one on his freshly founded box records label, which luckily allowed him the freedom to release his music without compromise. Here is what I heard…

Narrative of a land unknown

If singles are poems, EPs are short stories, then an album is a novel. And many things that work in a short story, or a poem – like jumping on one spontaneous idea, and then on to the next, completely different topic for the next release – just does not cut it for a novel, erm, album. promised land is a novel, clearly – its title would probably contain “the travels and adventures of”, “a land unknown and fantastic” and then something of melody, ancient clockwork, eerie beauty, and playfulness. (How good I am writing papers, not novels.) When I asked my dear partner about the sound, her reply was:

“It’s like a journey, through a place that was not visited before by another musician, I haven’t heard anything just like this before. But it’s definitely a journey, it’s like you take a long hike, you see cities, rivers, the country side, well, many different things, but it’s still the same country, that’s clear. It’s all of the same substance, sort of.”

No better words for this. So, if you want to give the promotion snippet a listen while reading on, go to  the box recordings page, you will find.

Is it an instrument, a sample, or did it just crash?

Hearing starts somewhere above 20-30 Hertz, feeling somewhere below 16 Hertz. But, when does a series of clicks become a tone? When does a frequency sweep become an instrument, and wait, isn’t that percussion actually pseudo-rhythmic static? If you want to hear the ambiguous middle ground, I recommend the track “Around The Corner”, I literally saw the guy at the La Plante mixers run to save his speakers.
Listening to the more experimental pieces (as the whole record is somewhat experimental, I should say: those pieces that are outrageously experimental) keeps me wondering, and how I like to wonder again. The record is an ongoing stream of surprises, a permanently morphing ghost ride (clearly including a pirate ship in a Carribean bay, “promised land I”) between samples, instruments, and sound processing/creation equipment under total control or in total absence of it. Thinking of Apparat’s Duplex and Amin Tobin’s recent ISAM, sound engineering in Electronic Music can go very good – or very bad. This record has not only a great hunger for sound engineering, but also the recipe book, refined many a time against other musicians sophisticated palates and the dance floor’s unforgiving judgment.

Breaking rules just works so much better when you know them…

The macbook/bedroom revolution has certainly brought us a lot, lot of good music. The macbook/bedroom revolution has certainly brought quality music production tools to the masses. The macbook/bedroom revolution has certainly not educated the masses in sound engineering and rules of composition, and it’s audible in the mass production of house, techno, and dubstep. What does this have to do with this album? Groj released numerous remixes, spent hours, days, weeks locked away for production, took on study and labor in sound engineering – and every single bit of it shows. In contrast to productions that violate the rules of sound simply because they don’t know, promised land willingly violates and bends them, fully knowing how to do it right.

I recently read about neutrinos travelling faster than light. The solution to this apparent paradox is that they take a short cut through an additional dimension. “Normal” particles all stick to the “brane”, a surface containing all regular dimensions. When a particle reaches a specific frequency, it can detach from the brane and travel via a shortcut to another place on the brane, appearing faster than light. Take this as my metaphor for the moments that promised land detaches from the brane, and travels through free space of sound, transforming beat patterns into sounds, samples into beat patterns, executes drum line somersaults…the music breaks into dimensions not contained in the building blocks it is made from originally.

Melodic techno, but tightness all throughout

Melodic or dream techno are subgenres that until listening to Kevin’s productions were, admittedly, entirely unknown to me. Also, what I first heard were sketches and didn’t have the polish and perfection of a finished piece of craft. Groj’s production has come a long way to arrive at this long player, I mean this in the most positive way. The recipe of packing beautiful, playful melodic lines and chords into high pressure containers and immersing them into almost physical sound engineering landscapes and tightly mixed crowd drivers works extremely well. This record show-cases the viability of melodic techno on head phones, lounges, peak of the night, and even the emotional depths of these space-less, after-peak-rave moments – which, by the way, happen too rarely here in Montreal where life ends at 3 am.

The complexity-transcendence optimum, rewardingly close

I have my own pseudo-theory what makes a good piece of art. Here it goes: Consider the complexity in a given piece of art, and also the grade of transcendence, how much it conquers the human condition. A perfect record reduces the complexity to the bare minimum required to deliver its message, to convey its essence to the listener. Now, promised land is far from simple, but also there is hardly anything that could be removed without leaving a gap. Inside each song, a good panorama unfolds, and each track probes another side of the record’s theme. Probably you got what I am trying to say here: This record boldly longs for that sweet spot between complexity and transcendence, and it comes critically close. While the album is exploratory, experimental, and all, and therefore interesting from a connoisseur perspective, it is this trade-off that makes it a plain treat to listen to.

Still, having given the CD a number of rotations and visiting the Internet commonplace of knowledge, I keep wondering what the Grunau flood planes are. I guess that’s something to ask the next time talking face to face…

Oh, there is no Jungle or Dubstep in here. While I love both of them dearly – Groj, thank you for light and air!

4 thoughts on “Album (p)review: Groj – promised land

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