- Twinkling percussion inspired by the masters of minimalism.
- Depending on how you choose to look at it, minimalist music can be a harbinger of calm or an instrument of chaos. In the 1960s, leading figures of the style like Steve Reich and Philip Glass rattled the classical world with music that rejected the ornate composition of the genre's past, choosing instead to center its antithesis: simplicity and repetition. Within each musician's discography, melodies and phrases are repeated over and over, bringing any subtle changes, like a lone note out of phase, into hyper-focus. Some critics derisively labeled the music meditative, while others, like John Rockwell, who reflected on the genre's endurance for the New York Times in '86, celebrated the trance-like state spawned from meticulous attention to detail. "It is this state, psychologists tell us," he wrote, "that any intensely creative or perceptive experience takes place; it is, perhaps, what makes life worth living."
The samples on Poly Pointillism, Jordan Cohen's second album as Chants, were crafted through a series of daily percussion videos he recorded at home in April 2020. In making this record, the Wisconsin-based producer retired from his earlier affairs with club music. Many of the LP's tracks feel like a diligent study in process music, which Reich defined as compositions with a "build," or pieces written in a way that exposes the gradual process of the music-making. In "Music For No Musicians," a cluster of accessible melodies ping-pong off each other, eventually expanding into complicated polyrhythms that make singling out one pattern like a game of tracking the dice in a seasoned magician's box. The track is likely a reference to Reich's legend-making piece, Music For 18 Musicians, where overlapping patterns render single chords undetectable, thereby generating melancholic textures (it could also easily be a nod to Erick Hall's recent venture into electronically reproducing Reich's composition).
Whatever his inspiration, the result is utterly transfixing. "Fifth Season" opens with duplicates of the same five-note melody played on twinkling kalimba and mallet percussion. As the piece unfolds, additional patterns layer atop the original phrase, ornamenting it with carefully placed notes. The song's texture feels both imperceptibly airy and tethered down, the latter mostly attributed to a trudging main melody. In "Iridescent Rhythm," the album's title could describe the bouncing notes accentuating certain sections of interweaving melodies, slowly building the music into an intricate tapestry of sounds.
Brimming with triumphant harmonies, "Displacement" is an exercise in the beautiful possibilities of doubling. Cohen, a trained percussionist, also makes use of his acute knowledge of rhythm to play with the grid. In the quirky "Prismatic Spray," melodic trills seemingly emerge out of thin air, squeezed between the outer edges of the percolating beats we're introduced to at the beginning of the track. It sounds like video game music, if the person playing was highly skilled and racking up points like light work.
Working with limited tools and a pared-down practice, Cohen proves himself to be an agile rhythmist worth his salt. "Deep Home" incorporates suspended rhythms that land like stripped-down gqom. Moving at lightning-speed, the frisky rhythms of "Shimmer And Glimmer" sound like they're chasing each other. What prevents the instruments from running away completely? A bass, plus something less ordinary: what sounds like a parrot squawk on the one and three.
01. A Gathering Swarm
02. Breathing Exercise
03. Fifth Season
04. Shimmer And Glimmer
05. Prismatic Spray
06. Iridescent Rhythm
07. No. 17
08. Further Up The Spiral
09. Deep Home
11. One Note
12. Aux Perc
13. Music For No Musicians