I enjoy electronic music, perhaps because i often find the presence of vocals to be distracting. When i am trying to relax, or read, or focus on something and want music in the background, i prefer for there to be no voice. Having to listen to and decode words is distracting. Much electronica is instrumental, so i end up listening to a lot of this type of thing, and over the years i have found several releases by Biosphere to be rewarding.
N-Plants is the thirteenth full-length album from Biosphere, who is electronic artist Geir Jenssen. According to his Wikipedia page, the album is "inspired by the Japanese post-war economic miracle. The album theme is related to nuclear plants in Japan." Each song is titled after a Japanese nuclear power plant, which i suppose symbolizes Japan's future-thinking attitude, or something. The problem is that this seems like a creepy album theme in the aftermath of the 11 March tsunami and the breakdown at the Sendai-1 plant, which also happens to be the title of the lead track. Apparently, though, Jenssen was done with the record before the tsunami, and it just a strange coincidence. Either that or he is from the future. Whichever.
Anyway, i was kind of surprised to learn this is his thirteenth album, as that seems like a lot. He has been at this for twenty years though, so i guess it's not too weird. I haven't heard all of his records, but i like what i have heard, and N-Plants is no different. Basically, Jenssen seems content to walk his own path. His electronic music is not like anyone else out there: he is not making dubstep, or Berliner techno, or drum-n-bass. He makes simple, sparse, loop-based tunes that don't fit into any of the established genres, and i respect him for that.
The minimalism of his music, the sparseness of it, makes for nice, relaxing listening. If you have heard his previous records, then this one will not come as a surprise.
The disc starts off with a few minutes of strange electronic sounds that almost sound like the night drone of insect life. The song is Sendai-1, which of course has been the sight of a terrible nuclear disaster since Jenssen recorded this track, but i think that it makes the insectoid drone all the more creepy, as if he was already pointing out how abandoned the place would become. Precognition aside, Jenssen layers in tinkling keys and some sort of horn sample over the drone, and the tune proceeds to grow nicely for eight minutes.
The next track is named Shika-1, which is a plant in central Japan that almost melted down accidentally in 1999. Okay, i am going to stop reading about the nuclear power plants over there, as apparently they are all scary. However, this tune is a happy little thing, with a light keyboard riff loping about and some happy clattering percussion. This has a really great rhythm, even if the pace is "a fair amble".
Joyo starts with amore of those nighttime insect sounds from Shika-1, only more dense here. They are also looped slightly off, so you can hear the sounds cut off and start over, almost like an old record skipping. Jenssen pairs this with deep 1970s keyboards, really getting his Vangelis on here.
Ikata-1 has a lovely head-bopping beat, some light keys, and a strange noise over it all, like a hint of old IDM thrown in with the ambient. I like the beat here, and the way he mixes in some noises that are a little grating. This song approaches what Autechre were ding on Oversteps, although much more mildly.
Jenssen adds a female vice speaking in Japanese in Monju-1. The voice speaks faintly over a bouncy keyboard melody and synth strings. This is a pretty song. Genkai-1 lowers the bouncy melody a few octaves, but uses similar keys as the previous track. No vocals here though.
Oi-1 starts with a nice bass riff, then a pair of synth sounds slide against one another while a clattering IDM beat skitters lightly. And then, suddenly, faintly in the background, there is an old drum loop seemingly on loan from DJ Shadow. The drum loop adds a nice layer of funkiness to the IDM skittering and the keyboard melodies. This is a pretty cool tune, and definitely my favorite on this record.
Monju-2 starts with a sample that includes the trill of some old Japanese stringed instrument over a faint drone and the buzzing of insects. I am pretty sure this is from an old Samurai movie, and i can kind of picture the scene -- i think the flies are buzzing on a murdered Samurai's body... Anyway, the sample fades out and this tune becomes very similar to Shika-1. The buzzing insect sample resurfaces a few times, but in general this is a tune of nice deep bleeping and some light R2D2 noises.
Finally, things end with Fujiko, which moves at a slightly faster pace than much of the rest of the album. It also features a long sample of a Japanese man speaking. Jenssen layers a stuttering hi-hat behind the voice, making this a pretty catchy tune.
The entire record wraps up at about 50 minutes or so, and given that there are 9 songs, each one is kind of long itself. Not that this is unexpected for this type of music. At any rate, i have found this to be a nice record to put on and just relax. Biosphere continues to impress. And maybe he can predict the future. Let's see what his next album is about, and what happens afterwards.