CD Review

Oh Astro are Jane Dowe and Hank Hofler, married Illinois academics who make experimental electronic music. While this might lead to expectations of a Captain and Tennille by way of Aphex Twin, Champions of Wonder is more like Britney Spears by way of minimalist composer Morton Feldman. Past Oh Astro efforts have been glitchier and more inaccessible; Champions is electronic pop culled together, like pixels in a video image, from hundreds of sample sources: a keyboard note here, an exhale of a syllable there, a sliver of a sampled string, all resulting in what Freud called the “uncanny,” something new but somehow familiar, sonic déjà  vu. The house-y “Snow Queen” has a sing-along quality, even though there are no words to sing along to, just sounds pasted together. (When there is a straight vocal, as on the a cappella “Lucy See the Moon,” it's so processed that your brain pulls the sentiment together from what sounds like nostalgia even when it might just be a Ween-y joke.)

As experimental pop, Champions isn't that far off from Matthew Herbert's helium-light dance-music efforts with Dani Siciliano. But the context here is as delicious as it is subversive: Merzbow imagining Mandy Moore, Kid 606 reducing Kid Rock, Non remixing New Order. Oh Astro's through-the-cobwebs-of-memory quality makes the case that pop music is only that because we remember it and identify it–not even that we inherently like it.

But that's the kind of stuff Dowe and Hofler can talk about in their lecture halls or at couples' counseling. Eno made his music for airports; Dowe and Hofler, in their attempt at pop-through-the-looking-glass, have made what you'd listen to on your iPod waiting for takeoff at your imaginary airport. Make sure your ears are in an upright position and your pop sensibilities are (re)stored safely.

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