- Give credit where credit is due: even if the pop smorgasbord aesthetic unleashed by home studios and P2P-fueled music collections is running out of steam, few pull it off with the sheer exuberance and virtuosity Ben Jacobs flashes as Max Tundra on the dizzying Parallax Error Beheads You.
Not that this should be unexpected from the Warp/Domino veteran. Sophomore full-length, Mastered by Guy at the Exchange, was one of 2002's most welcome surprises, challenging listeners with its seemingly endless array of 8-bit melodies and textures chopped up, processed and sequenced on an old-school Amiga computer. A delight from start to finish, the record proved the Londoner capable of making music as every bit as dense and detailed as contemporaries Jason Forrest and Akufen but distinguished by a knack for hooks, taste for the surreal and sense of unrealized ambition befitting of someone who spends his weekdays temping.
While it may have taken six years to produce a follow-up, Parallax contains a good decade's worth of ideas, each interwoven with an intricacy and sophistication that recalls the halcyon days of progressive rock. This is not to suggest Jacobs has created some kind of glitch pop answer to Tales from the Topographic Oceans; Max Tundra is less Yes than, say, Godley & Creme, remaking and remodeling pop classics for the Nintendo generation.
A relentlessly eclectic affair (more on that in a moment), each cut on Parallax does share at least one characteristic: an attention to detail that is borderline frightening. On "Which Song," Jacobs doesn't merely evoke Scritti Politti's hyper-syncopated synth sequences—he teases and mocks their craftsmanship and polish, keeping things decidedly lo-fi while throwing in deliberately—and hilariously—wrong notes. Others sound like they were scored by Jimmy Webb auditing a Band-in-a-Box computer software class; spry opener "Gum Chimes," with its loping harpsichord arpeggio, and the Brubeck-style swing of "My Night Out" both find the producer not only mimicking the cadence of Robert Wyatt's vocals but adopting his trademark lisp. Even the lyrics—breezy, surrealistic missives about love in the digital age—can't help but be referential ("I met a girl on eBay/She was bidding on Halfway to a Threeway" goes "Will Get Fooled Again," giving a shout-out to Captain Po-Mo himself, Jim O'Rourke). Leaping from Erasure-style synthpop to passages ripped straight from Zappa in New York, Jacobs reveals himself to be nothing if not utterly fearless and ruthlessly determined to avoid boring us with the obvious.
And that's where Parallax gets into some trouble. Where tracks like MBGATE's closer, "Labial," had a genuine lightness about them that offset their technical achievements, here the joie de vivre has been oddly muted – if not recorded over by a half-decade plus of fine-tuning then buried beneath Jacobs' increasingly pathological need to prove himself the smartest kid in class. When it works, it really works—"Number Our Days" almost has more hooks than three-and-a-half minutes can handle—and track for track, there may not be a more impressive record in 2008. But over forty-odd minutes, it makes for a listening experience that is just as often exhausting as it is exhilarating.
Still, with a title like Parallax Error Beheads You, that's the point isn't it?
01. Gum Chimes
02. Will Get Fooled Again
03. Which Song
04. My Night Out
06. Nord Lead Three
07. The Entertainment
08. Number Our Days
09. Glycaemic Index Blues
10. Until We Die