It’s highly likely that, should anyone bother to sum up the music of the hottest months of the year in some future compendium, 2009’s mid-section will be remembered as the summer of obscurity. From anonymous Americans playing lo-fi punk to incognito Swedes blowing out breezy Balearic dance singles, not to mention the emergence of increasingly ridiculous genres as “glo-fi,” it’s all about underground weirdos making a lot of noise in small circles. Yet there’s very little tying any of the most interesting new artists to rise to prominence of late, other than era, a scrappy freshness and a surreal kind of twist on dance music.
No artist better embodies the combination of scrappy freshness and surreal danceability than Pictureplane, the recording alias of Denver electronic artist Travis Egedy. At the ripe young age of 24 years old, Egedy has already been making some rumbles via shows with HEALTH, a collaboration with Beirut’s Zach Condon and numerous remixes, including Crystal Castles, with whom Pictureplane shares a few aesthetic similarities. Just two short years after “Flashion” first started showing up on blogs, Pictureplane’s Lovepump United debut, Dark Rift, is here, and it’s awesome.
Pay no mind to the black clothes or that “dark” in the title, Dark Rift is very much a summer record, and a hot and hedonistic one at that. Egedy lays down layer after layer of ecstatic electronic fire, mixing psychedelic effects with ’90s house chop-ups, buzzing synths, synthesizer melodies on Pixy Stix, Egedy’s own effects-treated vocals and the occasional classic rock sample. The end result, as you might imagine, is dense and chaotic, sometimes a bit overwhelming, but consistently melodic and joyous.
Egedy could have very well begun this throbbing, 13-track set on energy overload, but rather chooses to let the listener slowly into his maniacal, acid-robot playhouse by starting off with the mid-tempo “Solid Gold.” It’s a strangely beautiful mélange of vocoder, house beats and digital raindrops, a stunning beginning to what becomes a thoroughly crazy ride through Pictureplane’s world. “Trance Doll” is all chopped up divas and stadium synthesizer, with Egedy providing an odd human aspect beneath it all, while “Gang Signs” is a heady, 8-bit wall of sound that’s absolutely breathtaking in its strange, almost shoegazer-like blend of synthetic sounds.
“Goth Star” has already been making the blog rounds for a few weeks, and with good reason; it’s one of the year’s most outstanding electro-pop songs. With a choppy bassline that sounds vaguely like Gary Numan’s “Are `Friends’ Electric,” the song gives way to snippets of Fleetwood Mac samples and sweet keyboard twinkles. I can’t really say whether or not it’s goth, but it’s definitely one of the album’s stars. The same can be said for “Cyclical Cyclical (Atlantis),” which sounds like a woozier, dirtier Postal Service, and is all the better for it. “Time Teens” goes tropical in a most disorienting way, as “New Mind” builds from a hi-NRG base, and “Transparent Now (Thin Veil)” finds Egedy turning out one of the album’s most straightforward pop songs, a fuzzy, pretty pop track that puts the 4AD sound through the Pictureplane wringer.
Those in need of a dance record that emphasizes the bizarre without sacrificing beats or soul need look no further than Dark Rift. Pictureplane’s approach is disorienting and grimy, but just so carefully measured as to provoke the senses without completely blowing them out. Dark Rift might just keep this freaky and freakish summer going all year long.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.