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Arp - “The Soft Wave” (2010) review

Arp - The Soft Wave (Smalltown Supersound, 2010)

Alexis Georgopoulos’s prolific artistic career spans numerous musical groups, multimedia curations, and cultural writings. He is both the remixer and the remixed, the performer and the choreographer. As his second release under the moniker Arp, we step into a flooding gorge of analog synths. Pools of ecstasy, dysphoria, anda romantic hunger for something grander begin to collect around our ankles and rise up. Any classical analysis of technique would yield little value. Verging on cinematic, the record thumps. We thump back.

But any anticipatory climactic build is thrown out the window from the beginning. “Pastoral Symphony: I. Dominoes / II. Infinity Room” delivers as much majestic charm as the name suggests. Warm arpeggiated waves caress each other, first ambling into view, then storming the gates in some sonic serotonin burst. Everything seems to be pinned to the walls with a cosmic delay. Compressed chords begin to fester and combust into static crackling—the tonality is there, but swooping by in blurs. A pacing rhythm made from a couple of low pitched notes fills your cup back up as you bear witness to a futuristic séance, full of valor and reverence.

But wait. A compressed electric guitar sways into your rear view mirror. It’s 1956. You’re in a convertible with the top down. The midnight highway stretches out in front of you. The radio fuzzes. “White Light,” the second track of the album, is a shift from the strutting concerto to a new refreshing divulgence. But whether we’re grooving or glitching, it’s unclear.

Next, “Alfa (Dusted)” takes us through a tunnel of wah-wah pedals and more compressed low tones leading a pulsating march. The track’s meandering seems to conjure the space rock feel of Moon Duo’s Occult Architecture, Vol. 2, or the electronic drifting of Brian Eno’s Another Green World. (Arp himself reveals this as no accidental comparison—read on for the full story.)

“Catch Wave” follows with a more atmospheric awakening—you see a macro shot of a bumblebee tenderly situating himself on a flower petal as his wings vibrate. A cacophony of feather-light piano keys washes over you. You are restful, content.

The record is predominately ambient. Arp’s finicky keyboards with their hazy autumn-morning cadence keeps you afloat. As a whole, The Soft Wave was hailed as a highlight of 2010, and reason enough to dub Arp a “one-man bliss machine.” But, like The Village Voice so readily points out, the record begs for a storyline. It prods for a superseding mythos. And in “From a Balcony Overlooking the Sea” we get it.

Think Floyd’s acoustic numbers on Atom Heart Mother—even the vocals capture the same ho-hum magnetism bolstered atop a flowing arrangement of panning synths, piano, and a simplistic hi-hat. “Come / sit with me / watch the birds flying free.” Arp explained the sole vocal track as a foreshadowing for his later albums: a variety of instrumentation and vocals that would oscillate between chamber and baroque pop. In time, he would go on to synthesize David Gilmour’s alluring monotone with Harry Nilson’s genre-defying peppiness.

But for this 45-minute flight, his primarily instrumental vision is left intact. By the end we are juddered and berated by synth-driven static and dissonance. It’s only natural to close the eyes, or perhaps look for that cup of tea left sitting in the kitchen.

- Gabe Kahan
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