Woven | Designer Codes (s/r)

cd_woven.jpgThis is one ambitious record, and the sonic palette is wide, though well within the parameters of what most would call rock-based electronica, or maybe prog-laced trip-hop.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the problem with living in an age when almost anyone can make an album and technology ensures that tons of albums sound really good: casual listeners are increasingly unable to tell truly great records from merely good or adequate ones. Where’s the damage, you ask? Well, it just doesn’t seem fair that great albums should get lost in the shuffle, or overlooked just because a band isn’t on a major label and can’t garner lengthy reviews in every influential music ‘zine.

The latest group to earn my sympathies is Los Angeles quintet Woven, whose third release (and second full-length) is entitled Designer Codes. This, folks, is indeed a great album, one that can’t be easily pigeonholed. It’s a thoroughly modern record, full of masterful IDM rhythms, glistening sharp-edged synth work, unpredictable arrangements and captivating vocals. Most of the lead vocals, which vary in their placement in the mix (keeping things interesting) are by Ory Hodis, a guy who really sounds like music’s a primary component of his DNA. Brothers Richard and Steve Abagon (both multi-instrumentalists, with the former also contributing vocals) are primary musical anchors, but it’s difficult to tell who does what since there aren’t credits for individual tracks.

This is one ambitious record, though. It’s over an hour long, and the sonic palette is wide, though well within the parameters of what most would call rock-based electronica, or maybe prog-laced trip-hop. Who cares about labels, though? There’s an inventive, clangorous vitality to this music, a clear sense that the musicians are directing the machines rather than vice versa. There’s so much going on in powerhouse tracks such as "Perception Whore" and "Where We Going" that you really can’t discern it all in one listen. That former track is populated by disembodied male voices, but periodically there’s the additional childlike voice of Tiki Lewis, which adds a beguiling counterpoint to the proceedings. And the "I’m out of place" cry on the latter track is one of those pleasingly ambiguous phrases that, in this context, I choose to interpret as the sentiment of a gifted musician stuck in a mall of mediocrity.

The industrial underpinnings of "One" might bring Trent Reznor to mind; lots of things seem to be buzzing and churning on this track, and the lyric "Sometimes you know the way the story ends" emerges from the sound in a striking manner. Although steady and consistent in its techno-friendly trappings, there are surprises galore on the record: the delightful falsetto vocals on the Liars-like track "Do You Feel the Same?", the dreamy "Sadness’ Last Stand" with its gripping keyboards and robotic voice amid a Cocteaus-like swirl of sound,  and a pair of charmingly moody instrumentals (including the aptly named "Soundtrack to a Chance Meeting"). And the closing track "She Blows My Amplifier" is a terrific case study in making every individual sound count, as each "plink" and flurry of evocative tones perfectly serves the mood of thoughtful contemplation that Woven are, well, weaving here.

To make something that’s often abrasive and beautiful at the same time is beyond the scope of most musicians; so is serving up a full hour of innovative, cutting-edge, thoughtful modern rock that defies clichés. Woven have done it, though—the result being that Designer Codes is one of the strongest (and most likely, unheralded) albums of the year, a sonic odyssey that engrosses from start to finish. A | Kevin Renick

RIYL: Massive Attack, Jane’s Addiction, Aphex Twin

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