CD, self-released, 2010
Two years after a critically acclaimed instrumental debut – the sample-based “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” (2008) – the reclusive, American-born musician and producer Metaform (Justice Aaron) returns to deliver an intriguing, if not stunning, sophomore album. “The Electric Mist” presents a strangely addictive, haunting cross-pollination of rhythm and blues, hip-hop and shoegaze electronics, full of soul and grit, that plays with pop sensibilities even while disrupting them. In fact, “OCD”, a d’n’b-style cut from this release, also appeared on Tympanik Audio’s “Emerging Organisms 3” compilation earlier this year.
While most instrumental hip-hop/trip-hop producers today can rightfully point to DJ Shadow as a defining influence – and this may well be more appropriate in reference to Metaform’s first album – it takes a certain kind of artist to comprehend that groundbreaking material and then submit it to his/her own applications. At first glance, “The Electric Mist” is a glossy, overly-vocoded package of cloying R&B wistfulness backed by over-the-top, whooshing synths and reticent beats. But if you can transcend the farcical vocal manipulations that pervade just about every track, and even go so far as to embrace them, this album suddenly becomes a good deal deeper. Its instrumentation is moody, its atmospheres steeped in luxuriant layering, its beats all sex and slow grooves. The vocals are just the icing on the cake, as demonstrated by Metaform’s shrewd release of an instrumentals-only disc in parallel to the album proper.
“Revenge of a Nerd” perhaps best typifies the album’s aesthetic, with gritty synth lows, crisp electro percussion and vocoder lyricism (“Some need to hate on you because they hate the truth”). Full and sparse in turns, it subverts expectations while addressing the role of the outcast. Likewise, alleged R&B ballads such as “My Love” (unrequited affections), “Candy” (creepy desires) and “Strange Girl” (depression) take on that genre’s norms and implode them in a swirl of synths and fading helium. The latter is especially apt in this sense, its impacting beats and curiously disquieting lyrics (“The walls are covered with the scent of blood and aftershave”) bringing darker themes to the fore.
Elsewhere other modes are prevalent: “Secretly Alone” growls, synthpop affectations bolstering its dramatic chorus, while “Pop the Trunk” stutters, an affirmation of urban glitch-hop. There’s the not-so-obvious contrast of feel-good numbers like “Door Number One” and “It’s Gotta Be” – carefree and light, groove and splash. In sum, Metaform has transformed something trite and satiny into a polished, expertly produced extension of instrumental hip-hop that floats, ghost-like and obscure, through a haze of machine fetishism. No coincidence, then, that the album concludes with calm ambience and breathy washes of sound in “The Machine Approaches”.
— Dutton Hauhart