Abstractions Speak Louder Than Words

Bookmobile's bicoastal beats and bytes; Ninja Tune bounces back

Orange County rarely gets a chance to hear music like Bookmobile's. This has perplexed me since I moved here in March. Why no love for non-mainstream, non-mega-club electronic music? Besides what I've heard on KUCI's Digital::Nimbus show, this music that some call IDM or abstract electronica (double yuk, but they'll have to do for now) is so far underground that most folks don't even know it exists. Consider this my small contribution to boosting a musical style that deserves more attention.

Bookmobile—Ben Torrence and Victor Couto—began collaborating musically in Seattle in 2001, first with improv jazz rock unit Recidivist, and then with desktop-computer trio Lamplighter, both of which also featured Choncey Langford, who will be playing with Interfac3 on the Bookmobile bill Aug. 14. After Langford moved to LA in 2003, Torrence and Couto formed Bookmobile and issued Keys the next year on Ben's Woodson Lateral label. Their debut disc's 10 tracks cover much unobvious ground with nuanced craftiness. From the pressurized, size-19-moon-boot funk of "Filthy Lover" to the blissful, pinging microsound ode of "Fettle," Bookmobile smartly span an impressive range of approaches. It's rare to find American producers whose music recalls ominously tranquil post-rock pioneers Bark Psychosis ("Needrums"), Matmos' trompe l'oreille folktronica excursions ("Wilcaught") and laptop/guitar-tone pointillist Fennesz ("Inyrwindow") on one release. Bookmobile revel in digital dislocation and shape-shifting minimalism.

The new Boopanschwing (Woodson Lateral) finds the duo engaging in a sonic tag-team match with Seattle laptop jockey Zapan, who favors the sort of playful downtempo funk for which Ninja Tune Records is known. Bookmobile's five tracks here are their most dance-oriented to date, yet they sacrifice none of their meticulous, innovative sound-design techniques. The fact that Couto moved to Washington, D.C., in 2005—necessitating long-distance creative pow-wows—makes Bookmobile's new music even more impressive.

"Bookmobile's creative process had already been all over the map," Couto observes. "Each track we start tends to spawn its own process. So, we have been able to adapt just fine to the ftp:band thing."

"We had worked on tracks this way in the past, when we both lived in Seattle—passing a track back and forth, taking turns adding things and refining the song," adds Torrence. "The main difference now is that there is less room for spontaneity, since we can't improvise and compose with both of our laptops in unison."

With Boopanschwing, Bookmobile are moving in a more danceable direction. What's the impetus behind this? Are they leaving behind their chin-stroking days for good?

"We have always liked a nice chin stroke in conjunction with a dab of booty shake," Couto says. "Essentially, that has been the way we roll with Bookmobile, though Ben's solo work with Splinters and my experimentations tend to lean less toward the obviously danceable. The danceable result of Boopanschwing is mostly due to the democratic approach we took to collaborating with Zapan. As we put the album together, it became obvious fun grooves are what we had most in common."

"Looking back on Boopanschwing a few years from now," Torrence says, "I think it might seem like a bit of an anomaly for us, but we did want to show that we have a fun, playful side and can step away from being overly analytical or moody. We try not to limit ourselves stylistically, but we aren't intentionally trying to rebel against our own tendencies, either—we just play around with sound in whatever way we're feeling it on a given day, with whatever tools we have in front of us, and see what sticks."

At Saturday's Bookmobile show, Couto notes, you can expect "playful grooves, melodic tunes, minimal drones and beeps." Man, does Orange County need that.

England's Ninja Tune used to be one of the world's hottest labels. Things have cooled a bit for it over the past few years, but every so often, NT will hit you with a wave of hotness. Such is the case with the latest releases by Sixtoo and the Dragons.

Sixtoo is idiosyncratic Canadian hip-hop producer/rapper Vaughn Robert Squire, who's worked with Buck 65, Sage Francis, 1200 Hobos and others. His discography abounds with challenging, rewarding releases, and Jackals and Vipers in Envy of Man (out Aug. 28) follows suit. The 13 instrumentals here spotlight Sixtoo's script-flipping fusion of noir-ish post-rock textures and angular dynamics with ingenious, head-nodding beats. Long underrated, Sixtoo's a cat you need to check pronto.

The Dragons—Malibu brothers Doug, Daryl and Dennis Dragon—recorded cuts with engineer Donn Landee at the latter's Hollywood studio during some 1970 sessions dubbed "Blue Forces Intelligence." The tracks languished for 37 years until Ninja Tune's Strictly Kev of DJ Food scored a private pressing of the recordings and had his mind blown. He included the Dragons' "Food for My Soul" on his latest mix disc and convinced the NT bosses to issue BFI.

The disc balances sample-worthy grooves and with wistful sunshine-pop reveries, forging a deft merger between springy funk and moody psychedelia. This is the kind of LP that normally goes for three figures on eBay; now you can obtain it for less than a Ulysses.

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