- "Interface sounds, notifications from devices, or even the sound of household appliances—this is the ambient music that we live with," says Joe Williams by way of explaining his latest album. As Motion Graphics, Williams tries to respond to our technological reality in the way that Kraftwerk and Yellow Magic Orchestra did theirs: by turning it into pop music. Of course, he's not alone in this. Contemporary music has presented our hyper-connected present in various ways: as a place of chaos and disjunction; as a tacky corporate playground; as a frictionless cyberspace through which we drift. Williams' achievement is to fold all of these conflicting perspectives into a coherent whole, and to make that whole sleek and endlessly listenable.
This isn't Williams' first full-length. In the mid-2000s he was making glam-tinged indie as White Williams. The ingredients of his reinvention can be found in a few recent side projects. He worked on Lifted's 2015 LP of strange and meditative synth music. He has co-production credits on albums by his old friend Co La, whose splintered collages respond to the internet age in their own way, and he has recorded mixtapes packed with exotica and leftfield Japanese pop. "Brass Mechanics," a Future Times single released alongside this album, uses hyper-realistic software instruments to take the repeating figures of Philip Glass into post-human zones.
These influences and approaches are brought into careful equilibrium on Motion Graphics. The album imagines pop as computer-generated architecture: vivid, plastic and physics-defying. Drums clatter and tumble with infinitesimal precision. Melodies are sprayed out in pointillist shapes. Synthetic strings and brass flex and bend oddly. Each track is difficult to parse in one or even three listens, but this density isn't uncomfortable, as it can be with Co La. The mood is beatific, as if everything is unfolding according to a divine logic ("Heaven sent the GUI," Williams sings on "Minecraft Mosaic"). Several tracks—"Lense," "Houzzfunction," "Mezzotint Gliss"—are built around tranquil chord progressions adapted from the Ryuichi Sakamoto playbook. And Williams' voice is a calming presence, delivering inscrutable metaphors in a light tenor.
The most interesting stuff happens near the album's midpoint. There's something footwork-y about the skittering rhythms of "Anyware" and "Vistabrick," though Williams keeps the focus off the drums, cloaking the tracks in woodwinds or a gorgeous robot choir. On "City Links," his voice takes on an autotuned sheen behind swelling strings. "Lights accelerate / Rendering a time zone / Moving in a mobile home," he mumbles in the synthetic haze. On one level, you can't work out what he's getting at, but on another, he seems to have captured something you were thinking all along.
05. Minecraft Mosaic
07. City Links
09. Mezzotint Gliss
10. SoftBank Arcade (Swiftcode Version)