When the Robot Wars begin, it’s going to be very hard to decide whether bands like Solvent will be assimilated into the collective of worker drones or be forced to entertain their automaton masters. Jason Amm, the human face behind Solvent’s angular beats and swelling synth rhythms, is a self-described “robot music composer and analog synthesizer fetishist.” Regardless of what that means, his primary concern seems to be making music you can tap your toes to, whether they’re made of flesh or metal.
Elevators and Oscillators, Amm’s sophomore release, walks the precarious line between the work of abstract electronic artists like Autechre and Mouse on Mars, and the more accessible pop of Fischerspooner. Instrumentals like the title track are standard fare in Amm’s bag of sonic tricks — heavy pulses layered over bubbling electronic pops and the echoing notes of bleeping keyboards. Similarly, album-opener “Wish” sounds like it was recorded in the heart of a UFO. Synthetic whines and burblings play out while Amm’s voice is distorted into that of a haunting android. It’s the kind of stuff that would make Robert Moog proud, but isn’t really too revolutionary.
Unfortunately, like many well-meaning but misled electronic artists before him, Amm raises the question of the value of the remix. Just over half of Oscillators is comprised of songs off his first LP, Apples and Synthesizers, and while most are enjoyable enough on their own, they make for repetitive listening when you consider the album as a whole.
Still, it’s interesting to see what each respective artist contributes to previous Solvent favorites. “My Radio,” Amm’s heart-wrenching breakup song with the radio, varies the most in its remixes, but each makes for addictive listening in its own way. Mitang Audio’s version begins the trio, offering alien vocals and more rave-style beats than you can shake a glowstick at. Legowelt’s take is radically different, creating a dark atmosphere to weave around the still infectious beats. It sounds a little like Peter Murphy groaning over the kind of music my 16-bit Genesis’ soundcard used to produce, usually during a fight with a particularly nasty end-of-level boss. Anyone who grows wistful over old consoles will enjoy this track.
Ultimately, however, Schneider TM Mustang lends “My Radio” the most accessible spin, primarily because Amm’s voice is finally left unhampered. It’s ironic that a robot music composer has such a beautiful human voice, and against a quiet background of distorted scratching and guitar plinks, this song comes across as brilliant and light-hearted as a Caribou track.
If the battle between man and machine ever goes down, Jason Amm will make an excellent diplomat. Considering the beautiful sounds he can coax out of synthesizers and mixing tables, it’s doubtless his relationship with technology will pay off big in his musical career — just so long as he keeps producing original songs.