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Review: Upside Down Umbrella’s Fantastic and Tangible

April 26, 2011

It may be 2011, but I still think the idea of a symphony is relevant. At least Mahler’s idea of what a symphony should be, once one cuts down the form and instrumentation and other rules; his goal in writing a symphony was to capture the world in its entirety. The format of the album, which has begun fading into oblivion, is probably the best vehicle for approaching this goal, and I feel like I can hear it in Fantastic and Tangible by Upside Down Umbrella.

While never deviating from a signature sound of atmospheric electronics, found sounds, sparse beats, and processed guitars, the music has an exploratory aspect to it that covers substantial ground. Possibly the best example of this would be listening to “4AM Hong Kong Sun,” which goes from creepy to laid back lounge to synthesized church and back in the span of a single track.

Looking that as the Western bookend, the Eastern side is called “Circus Day” and is a sparse and slightly unsettling tune for the circus organ and mallet instrument recognized across the world.  Picture Coney Island, but creepi… wait, no, just picture Coney Island.

In between these, Jeremy Keenan (programming, London) and Alex Abalos (guitars, San Fransisco) put together a series of stunning aural landscapes that drift in and out of focus wonderfully. At one moment it feels like you may be standing outside a club at closing time, while the next in outer space amidst aliens.  Well, at least those are the cues my ears are giving, but I’m sure other people will manufacture equally vivid sights from the sounds.

This is because the music is well crafted with an emphasis on the details of the sounds. Percussive gestures are sculpted throughout to constantly shift the mood of certain moments, while other sounds fade in and out from black with deliberate intentions. Sonic space isn’t wasted, and the clarity of the sounds is impeccable.

Cut From has all of these qualities and then some, as it seems to tease out hooks from different songs in a gravity-less sort of way. Memorable moments from guitars, drums, and synthesizers seem to take turns and then drop you back off in a similar spot. It’s probably the most dramatic and despite not being the shortest (which would be the excellent title track), one of the more economical tracks on the album.

Taken as a whole, Fantastic and Tangible is certain a 1am with headphones sort of record. But much like, dreams the record can transport you to any number of places. Perhaps unlike a symphony, it doesn’t capture the entire world, but offers you an opportunity to explore what you’d like.

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