1 November 2013

M. Geddes Gengras: Collected Works Vol. 1 – The Moog Years (Umor Rex)

M. Geddes Gengras has a sizable repertoire preceding him, even though this collection of Moog synth excursions is my first impression. Despite his broad resume, I don’t think it’s necessary to hear any of it to appreciate Collected Works Vol. 1. Amidst the whole modular synthesis craze currently, it’s easy to write off Gengras’ Moog excursions as simply jumping on the bandwagon, but I find this collection of six pieces to be engrossing and haunting. The longest track is first; “10.17.2009 (for CCG)” is a swirling, melancholic masterpiece. To make a slight diversion, one of my favorite ambient albums of all time is Maeror Tri’s Myein (ND, 1995). It’s a near-perfect nexus of shoegazing guitar, gritty texture, and patient excursions of pastoral beauty. This opening track reminds me of that same majesty, swirling and swooning and somehow both busy and vibrant while also feeling serene and calming.

While its dynamics are even throughout, the other tracks vary. “Resistor” is solitary and ponderous, gliding across its few moments of playback like a dream. That starkness also characterizes the two untitled works that follow, particularly “Untitled #4,” comprised of undulating synth patterns punctuated by stabs of decaying, filtered pink noise.

I think these explorations all converge on “Magical Writing,” the fifth track and second longest, with its layers of squirming, chirping textures and drones, ebbing with substantial grace while a chorus of tones sparkles overhead. Unlike some of the other pieces, “Magical Writing” has a more pronounced narrative arc; about three-quarters of the way through, its haze of drones dissipates into a more sedate pool while synth sounds chirp in the distance.

Closing track “Inductor” continues the denouement with higher-end drones accentuated by percolating bleeps and drips, some of the more obvious Moog sounds amidst this otherwise fairly subtle and thoughtful exploitation of the instrument as an emotive lead. It’s only with that occasional exception that Gengras plays to expectations of what it means to make music entirely with a Moog. Otherwise he rarely references the sound library aesthetic that a rock act like Stereolab has tapped into over its many years, as just one contrasting example; instead, Collected Works Vol. 1 is a thoughtful and introspective foray into emotional landscapes through vintage gear, highly recommended.

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