To be blunt, most improvised music is a directionless mess. The basic facts of putting two or three (or – shudder – more) musicians in a room together with no songs, no melodies and no structure and just saying ?ready, set, go? means that more often than not it ends up a case of the blind leading the blind. The truth is, just about anybody can futz about on an instrument (even one they haven’t learnt to play properly) and then justify their lack of technique by laying claim to some sort of vaporous authenticity.
ii take a different approach. Where most improvisers don’t know where they’re going, and therefore waste their time (and ours) with aimless wanderings through half-formed landscapes of scrape and clatter, this Melbourne duo seem to set out with a firm destination in mind, and then set about making up exactly how they’re going to get there.
Landlakes* is a delicate collection of instrumentals that touch on everything from post-rock to drone to glitchtronica, all tied together by a sense of exploratory curiosity and an apparent desire to test the boundaries of their own musical language. It’s a language that’s still in development – you can be sure that by the time Jon and Alex are ready with the follow-up to *Landlakes, they’ll have a whole new vocabulary at their disposal.
The tumbling, scattershot drumming that begins ‘We Ate Everyone’ eventually gives way to shimmering cymbals and a blissful, layered guitar drone. It’s too busy to be ambient, too peripheral to be rock. ‘_____ Services’ is undercut by a similarly subharmonic ocean of noise, on which frayed clusters of guitar and muffled field recordings drift. The brief, Tape-esque ‘Moementks’ features the record’s first sustained melody, before Oho warms to the theme and becomes the first thing on Landlakes* that you could accurately call a song. This is followed by the noisier ‘Good Times, Bad Luck’, which sees a bass-heavy distortion pitted against (and ultimately defeated by) ii’s preferred brand of fluttering, barely-there melody. Tropes brings to mind a glitchier version of Tarentel circa ‘Ghost Weight’, while ‘Memory Lust’ loses itself in a mist of echoing throbs and hums. Two more abstract tracks (the noisier ‘Conversing With Loverboy’ and its calm counterpoint ‘Reset’) lead *Landlakes into its final and most straightforward track, ‘Clamshell’.
ii’s employment of improvisation within a loosely structural framework (or vice versa) is the engine that drives Landlakes* to transcend the staid formulations of instrumental post-rock and simultaneously avoid the pitfalls of pseudo-intellectual ?free? music. *Landlakes is a stunning debut in more ways than one, and should cruise into any and all ?best of? lists for 2008.