Max Tundra

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Some Best Friend You Turned Out To Be (2000), 7/10
Mastered By Guy At The Exchange (Tigerbeat6, 2002), 6/10
Parallax Error Beheads You (2008), 6/10

Max Tundra (British electronic musician Ben Jacobs), who debuted with the single Children At Play (1998), embodied the figure of the singer-songwriter as it evolved into a computer technician.

Each instrumental piece on Some Best Friend You Turned Out To Be (Domino, 2000), is an eloquent and energetic albeit chaotic digital collage that mines soul, funk and/or synth-pop of past ages and transposes them into contemporary cacophony; an eclectic artifact manufactured by painstakingly assembling electronic sounds and samples of live instruments (all played by Jacobs himself). Ink Me is a catchy ditty clearly constructed in studio by assembling audio snippets. The process has left its marks on the rhythm, which is unnaturally syncopated. Subsi Kuki is a wild dancefloor piece that is as cold as an iceberg. Tundra's clockwords range from visionary (the robotic minimalist concerto Lausanne) to eccentric (the limping piano rag Tuli A Plain Ride From Canvas) to virtuoso (the acrobatic The Balaton) to pure surrealism (percussive fanfare Ah There's Deek Now). Tundra's most ambitious compositions are those that mutate like evolving organisms. The first part of Cakes is fractured piano jazz that sounds like a computer sampling a smooth improvisation every other second, while the second part is a virulent jazz-rock jam. Bill Bholem Quintette begins with a Canterbury-esque prog-rock jam that decays into a deranged Brazilian batucada. The twelve-minute Carbon Cones flows seemlessly from old-school disco music to Todd Rundgren-ian high-tech vaudeville and to abstract guitarscape. Computers enabled him to dispel the notion that chaos means dissonance.

The addition of vocals (both male and female) on Mastered By Guy At The Exchange (Tigerbeat6, 2002) was not necessarily a welcome change. The new elegance of the songs was a mixed blessing, as it removed most of the creative process. For the first time his music evoked the term "ballad" (e.g., Lysine). M B G A T E was still charmingly convoluted, but Hilted was just straightforward pop a` la Magnetic Fields. A handful of pieces match the previous album's folly: Labial resembles a Bach fugue or a Yes song filtered through a videogame; the cascading beats of Acorns sting a breathless vocal rigmarole; the cubistic disco jam Cabasa morphs into Caribbean jazz. Tundra was still a madman of the studio, but there was now a method to his madness.

After a long hiatus, Parallax Error Beheads You (2008), an even more mild-mannered collection sung by him in person. The funk fanfare and his soul falsetto in Which Song sound like Michael Jackson. The accompaniment to Gum Chimes borders on neoclassical music and orchestral pop of the 1950s. Ironically, the sleek and cohesive sound of the third album sounds more cacophonous than the wildly eccentric sound of the first album. The reason is that these emphatic arrangements and beats are not tied to memorable melodies. Listening to songs such as Number Our Days is like listening to Phil Collins with the bombast but not the catchy refrains. His original mission reappears in the hyper-active synth-pop novelty Orphaned, an instrumental which gets virtually destroyed in the process of being manufactured. Other eccentric highlights include the frantic polyrhythm Will Get Fooled Again, the videogame-infected house music of Glycaemic Index Blues and the neurotic jazzy chaos of My Night Out. The eleven-minute melodic fantasia Until We Die is a diligent (if a bit stressful) tribute to jazz-rock and to Yes' prog-rock. Overall, Tundra seems to be evolving towards the high-tech r'n'b styles of the post-Timbaland generation. There is little left of the cubistic and robotic style of the first album.

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
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