Let us, for a moment, examine the myth of the Minotaur, the half man half bull monster of ancient Greece that lived in the fabled labyrinth and devoured the virgins of Crete out of some sitcom-grade misinterpretation between King Minos and the suits in the main office on Mt. Olympus. When young prince Theseus was dispatched to the island in disguise to rid the isles of this menace, he wondered if the creature bore the stupidity of the bull and the weakness of a man, or the reverse, the cunning of man with the power of a bull, which ended up being the case.
This conundrum can be applied when venturing into the labyrinth world of laptop pop, where the results can either bear the fumbling dexterity of the human and the soullessness of the machine, or conversely, the unbridled creativity of the composer with the reliability and nimble-ness of the computer. One could further examine how King Minos' hubris, birthing this monster to eat innocent virgins to please the angry sea god so that warfare can be waged with cosmic favor, is comparable to the bloated record industry spawning a DIY genre like laptop pop, that will eventually kill the father, but the first rule of having a background in the classics is to know when to quit on your metaphors.
The recent album by Minotaur Shock definitely opts for the big brain and strong arm of the Minotaur myth, in that this a highly enjoyable, organic, delicate, nuanced release, the kind you rarely see from a man working behind an LCD screen. The squawky honking wind quartet "Museli" that opens this odd little record reminds me of the Smithsonian albums of lost American chamber works my library used to have when I was a teen looking for weird music. The sweet horn section juxtaposes with a marimba and hand percussion array from the and ten a sea shanty grade accordion hornpipe to make for one certainly curious listen. "(She's in) Dry Dock Now" pushes into a more pop territory, with a lilt that undeniably reminds me of 311 (except that it doesn't suck like 311 categorically does) and big brassy shiny synth lines punctuating it. These tow an interesting line between artful chamber arrangements and old school happy synth jams of the glorious new wave era, when these things were new and a cause for celebration.
"Vigo Bay" tools around a classic descending keyboard rhythm that sounds like the closing credits music for a John Hughes film, in a good way. It gets a good clip going and then lurches to near halt with delicate guitar line before the happy robots commence back to work. Similarly "Six Foolish Fishermen" has a punchy rhythm that reminds me of the long forgotten instrumental album cuts on a Human League record, where the band aims for something bigger than a dancefloor rumble that pays the bills - a charming little epic.
One of the more interesting numbers here is "Twosley" where a vibrato synth line running throughout is punctuated by wind and brass sounds to create a slight but definite tension between the disparate elements, especially once the violin sounds emerge to temporarily push it forward. And while doing this, its a completely engaging, accessible piece of music. "Somebody Once Told Me it Existed But I Never Found it" is another fine work, meshing acoustic guitars with buzzing synths in a way you feel Chicago art-rockers like Gastr Del Sol always aimed for, but never made it as immediately palatable as this. "Luck Shield" is a similar affair, where cellos and ooooh-ing voices undulate in the air. The album dreamily meanders through similar territory up through the final "Four Magpies" where it almost reaches a post-glam Roxy Music level of lushness and sophistication. Its the emerging wind arrangements that really separate this album from others like it, they add a degree of earnestness and intelligence you don't often get from a genre that trades more in groove and power dynamics. The more I listen to this record, the more I really like it. If you have been looking for the perfect curious soundtrack for your next weekend seaside idyll, this may very well be it.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
Memories are Now, is a bold and inventive collection from Jesca Hoop who says each new record begins with a musical identity crisis