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Popp (Uovooo)

Popp’s Oval project seemed to be on a clear trajectory throughout the
nineties, starting as a trio and ostensibly a band before
self-disassembling into a curious solo project for Popp. Starting
with Systemisch, Popp proceeded down a sort of rabbit hole of sonic
deconstruction, taking recorded sounds on CD and deliberating
skipping them to create sort of anti-grooves of glitched sound. It
was perfectly timed at the apex of CD consumerism, emphasizing the
worst-case scenario for most CD playback. He extrapolated that same
curious tinkering across several albums before using generative
software to process and manipulate sound on the fly in new ways,
yielding the rather severe Ovalprocess album and its more playful
counterpart, Ovalcommers. After a series of unusual flirtations with
vocals and more acoustic, improvised (in sound, at least) rhythm over
the past several years, Popp somehow feels like the nexus of all of
these ventures. It has all of the density of Ovalprocess or
Overcommers, but it feels more like a kindred spirit to the digital
error fascination of his mid-90s output (particularly diskont94 and
Szenariodisk). It has all of the more overt beatmaking of his more
recent albums, but instead of acoustic, it feels more electronic,
with a tinge of the bulbous and often busy arrangements of past
collaborators Mouse on Mars. And while it has none of the guest
vocalists that have featured so prominently on recent albums
Calistópia! and Voa, many of these tracks swirl with snippets,
samples, or generated voices. Second track “fu” is such a
case, peppered with synthesized vocal bits while choppy stabs of
sound are syncopated to form an unusual groove. Markus Popp described
this on Facebook as an Oval “club album” — and while, indeed,
it’s by far the closest thing he’s made to club music, I’d venture
that its compatibility to that world rests more in the hands of
capable and adventurous DJs than the music on its own. But in a way,
that is the most brilliant thing about Popp: despite how busy,
angular, or twitchy its tracks often are, they are often moving to a
fairly straightforward dancefloor tempo (120-130bpm), lending it
crossover potential that I’d liken to some of Mark Fell’s
productions. So an almost frantic cut like “re” is actually more
accessible than it may seem at first, with its scattered arrangement
of samples and sounds both leveraging Oval’s most “difficult”
productions as much as the current en vogue bright experimental pop
tendencies of acts like Oneohtrix Point Never or Oval’s more
delightful remix jobs of the past (his fantastic Pizzicato Five remix
coming to mind specifically).

Popp by Oval

Many of the cuts evolve in such a way
that when a regular beat kicks in, it’s a halfbeat with a big
crashing snare and a staggered kick, a new development that at first
feels quite exciting but ultimately might be a bit played out after
so many tracks that rely on it as an anchor. Likewise, the only
downside to Popp for me is in its repetition, its insistence on a
wall of scattered sound that evolves into a dense groove and then
just plods along. Coming from the man who released the 21-minute “Do
While” many years back, this tendency for looping patterns and
repetition is hardly surprising, but while a track like “Do While”
has an understated elegance in its simplicity, most of Popp feels
like wall to wall coverage of sound, maximum layering and hardly any
room to breathe. Like most of Popp’s albums as Oval, however, Popp is
focused around an idea and a process, flirting with pop music and
club music perhaps in as much an obvious way as Popp can without
losing himself. And so despite some of these criticisms, Popp is more
of a success to me than not, another conceptually strong and
musically interesting statement from one of the most influential
figures in experimental electronic music to me. And for all of Popp’s
evenness, there are still a few definite standouts to me. I really
enjoy the chiming refrains of both “ku” and “mo,” as well as
the sproingy ricochets of “sa.” And yet perhaps Popp is best
experienced as a big slab of sound, which makes it as comprehensive a
statement as it is a dense listening experience from start to finish.

Buy it: Bandcamp