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Endif - Carbon [return to reviews]
Label: Tympanik Audio
Review by Christopher Roddy

IDM. "Intelligent Dance Music." Who came up with such a ridiculous designation? You can't reasonably adopt it whether you're an artist or a listener unless you want to come across as a pretentious twat. If you label your own music in such a way you appear to be looking down your nose at every other musician getting club play and if you're just an avid electronic fan telling people you're into IDM is tantamount to saying that you would get into the acts others like but for the fact that they are just too dumbed-down for your particular tastes. And you're better than that, aren't you? Yes you are you smugly self-satisfying, ostentatious egoist.

Yet, some music can easily be labeled as smarter than most. It's evident in the thought-process which goes into the song writing and craftsmanship, the way the music holds your interest and takes you in directions that excite you, revealing movements that are unpredictable and fascinatingly creative. There are occasions when a composer captures something raw yet refined which captivates your imagination and inspires you in ways few other artists can accomplish. To incite such a response certainly requires the intelligence necessary to communicate with an audience in such a way as to make the art/music accessible without coming across as pandering. Even so there should be something a little unsettling, something that intrigues the listener but causes them to question just why they are drawn to the work. It's self-discovery arising from the bold expression of another unique personality being conveyed through an artistic medium.

Welcome to the world of Endif, the vehicle Jason Hollis has used for his creative output over the past seventeen years. A long time, to be certain, but the majority of that period has been utilized by honing in on the craft, learning from mistakes and building upon an ideal of what Hollis believes synthetic music should attain. It's been time well spent as anyone who owns his debut album, Meta (2006), or its predecessor, the 2005 CDr Meld, can attest. Don't call it "IDM," don't even lump it in with "Powernoise." Hollis seems to prefer the term "Hard Electronic," and the description certainly fits without pigeonholing him into a specific sound category.

Carbon, his latest album, builds upon Meta's ideas and furthers them to a striking degree. If he were four or five albums into his discography I'd probably be inclined toward calling this a career "masterwork," yet he still seems to be merely embarking on a successful recording career with plenty of experiences to build upon and lessons from which to learn and apply his gifted and endlessly creative eye (and ear) toward. If you are unaware of Hollis the artist now is definitely the time to be familiarizing yourself with this important and potentially influential individual.

Kicking things off with "Churl" (emphasis on the "kick"), track one features the listener inhabiting an aural abattoir, subjected to scissoring synthetic noises and pummeled with a punishing rhythm that leaves little behind but the twisted sinew of your psyche and the powdered bone of what once were your bipedal means of movement. "Between Two Worlds," one of the album's most straightforward tracks, evokes a dark and icy mood laced with sharp noises and a heavy, distorted beat sure to please any club crowd. Two minutes and ten seconds in the song seems to collapse only to reboot and power up a half minute later furthering the infectious assault to your senses.

Whereas most electronic acts introduce a rhythm then beat you over the head with it over the course of a repetitive three-to-five minute period Hollis opts for a much more creative and less formulaic approach featuring beat structures in a constant state of evolution which compliment the primary theme perfectly and always refer back to the origination point as a frame of reference. "Last Tribe" has a strong, Rhythmic Noise feel with a skittering beat that leads into a propulsive throb before becoming more refined in its approach and less predictable. You don't have to be "Intelligent" to dance to it, you just need to possess the capacity to alter your own approach from the level of comfort one associates with easily calculable expectations to one that embraces constant adaptive inclinations.

"Naked, Bloody And Hungry" samples the classic Quincy M.E. episode "Next Stop Nowhere" which serves as Punk Rock's version of Reefer Madness in its level of absurdist social propaganda. Using it as the backdrop for a perversely pulsing draw inciting the listener to move in a manner that mirrors the ebb and flow of an oscillating sine wave is nothing short of brilliant. You begin to get the feeling that Hollis is less an independent musician and more of a mad genius than he lets on, which just serves in making the music that much more fun.

Whether pushing the boundaries of traditional dance music with the bubbling, cybernetic "Ghost In The Machine" or presenting a range of organic emotions through the ambient digital noise of "The Answer," Hollis proves himself a tremendous asset to the rising star that is the Tympanik Audio Label and an as yet untapped, influential force within Electronic music as a whole. With mixing and mastering assistance by Justin Brink of Pneumatic Detach, Carbon is more than just a defining point in one artist's career, it's a template by which future composers can gauge their own acumen. Yes, it's that smart. One might even go so far as to call it intelligent.

See also: Jason Hollis: The DTC Interview

1. Churl
2. Ghost In The Machine
3. Peeling The Layers
4. Between Two Worlds
5. Surgery Of The Soul
6. Last Tribe (Endif V. Replogen)
7. Reactionary
8. The Answer
9. Naked Bloody And Hungry
10. Soft Power
11. Police State
12. Police State (Billy Club rmx by Pneumatic Detach)