Off the Spine

Tobias C van Veen, e/i magazine, no. 1, March 31, 2003

Cowboy techno? Acoustic breakbeats with a country twang? Y’all better throw down dem’ laptops, y’hear? While I think Todd Drootin’s call for laptop performers to “return to live gear performances” is a regressive and reactive solution if taken seriously, his playful acoustic jam-sessions play the South of electronic music & launch a critique reminiscent of — or at least the spirit of — Kid606’s Down With The Scene. Energetic ‘organic’ broken beats with plenty of pianos and guitars, injected with meticulous and miniscule sampledelia. Where Books on Tape excels is in the arrangement and composition of each track — a shot from a six-shooter, some bullets a dive into inventive indie d’n’b: hick Gold Chains? Effects and sounds are used with introduction, precision, and care, yet every confinement has its prisoners and here the live, gearbased performance risks an overdetermined audio palette for the potential multitude of animals in this vibrant jungle. Given the handcuffs, the restraints nevertheless provide a medium for experiencing pleasure, a stripped sonic canvas: Gear without Laptop (GwL). Whip me over that barstool in this forgotten backwater saloon filled with DVD pirates high on nanodrugs — some twisted William Gibson novel gone horribly awry in a Western timewarp — but Drootin is not John Wayne: he’s the sharp shootin’ fourth amigo missing from the trilogy of electronic music: gear, digital, and electroacoustic. A new cyborg from the T-series plant? What sounds will breed from this huevos rancheros hybridity? Whereas the melodrama and quirkiness of each track bodes well, the vocals on Sporty But Sensible Car don’t. The practical dada voicing on The Contenders spanks me better: it cries indielectro. (A spark in the naming engine?) As ‘acoustic’ as it is, this disc is experimental simulacra, each track a forensic foray attempting to breathe vitriol into a wired world through a sonic mirror. Its success depends on whether you like American dualisms.

… broken beats with plenty of pianos and guitars, injected with meticulous and miniscule sampledelia.

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