Dirk Dresselhaus, aka
Schneider TM, has never been content with being compared to the Aphex Twin. Rather than walk in Mr. James's shoes, he has forged a path out of the stagnant primordial ooze that has trapped so many electronic artists. He calls it Zoomer
, and it features as many interesting blips and bloops as any other "laptop" CD, with one very notable difference: the music has a soul.
The stylistic progression from Schneider TM's earlier releases to Zoomer is more a matter of refinement that massive change. His vocals sound more confident this time around, his production is stronger and his instrumentation has reached a creative peak, but Dirk's heart is still in songwriting. Zoomer has a warmth and spirit that makes the work endearing as actual songs rather than chunks of carefully manipulated data. We're talking, for the most part, proper verse/chorus/verse/bridge songs, with all the standard harmonic shifts of the pop world -- but Dresselhaus's inventive sonic palette adds new life to these mainstream sensibilities. His melodies are lush, soft, reminiscent of Plaid's Double Figure, and the orchestration and harmonies that surround them are correspondingly clever. The opener, "Reality Check", fuses heavily comb-filtered guitars over glitchy up-tempo beats; Dresselhaus employs the much-maligned vocoder for vocal effect, but makes it warm and natural, highlighting its human qualities rather than concentrating on its robotic implications. The surreal "Frogtoise", a sad tale of dissection ("cause in my dream I cut a frog in half and a turtle too / how it looked at me, the one to blame"), features choral washes, Dirk's signature Beck-like vocal, and a warped-record wobbling effect that's supremely well-suited to his off-kilter lyrics. And on "Turn On", MC Max Turner delivers the goods -- Q-Tip-inspired freestyling over tremoloed guitar and some damn fine "clicks and cuts" drum programming.
The novelties of blip-hop, glitch, drum and bass all fade, but Dresselhaus is there at the funeral -- scooping up the ashes, discarding the sludgy bits and forming his own niche in the electronic realm. Zoomer is a stellar example of how to make trends into tools.