Evan Bartholomew,
(New Land, 2007)

Organic electronica is not an oxymoron when it comes to Evan Bartholomew's genre-bending release, Borderlands. It's electronica without a thumping beat, new age without sappiness and minimalism without mind-numbing repetition. It has too much melody to please diehard Philip Glass fans, and too few unidentifiable electronic sounds to please diehard Robert Rich fans.

In short, I like it.

The 16 tracks on Borderlands are organised in couplets under eight categories: birth, memory, dream, fever, medicine, practice, death and tomorrow. The two tracks under "birth," for instance, are called "Between Becoming" and "And Being." But the pairing frequently seems more verbal than musical; each track is self-contained and cyclical, moving from simplicity to complexity and back again. The CD falls into a similar pattern, starting with the sparse, syncopated notes of the opening track and ending with the dying strains of an ethereal electronic chorus.

A classically trained musician, Bartholomew (a.k.a. Bluetech) skirts the repetition that plagues many minimalist and ambient recordings through the variety of his instrumentation and melodies. The most immediately recognisable tracks on Borderlands are those that incorporate realistic sounding horns: "Practice: Between Mastery" and "Fever: Between Boil." The former pays tribute to Philip Glass, featuring a melody that builds on and around a repeated two-note sequence; the latter, juxtaposing brassy horns with tense, plucked strings, sounds rather like Yann Tiersen's score for Goodbye Lenin.

Borderlands is not, however, slavishly minimalist, and other tracks display Bartholomew's skill at creating lushly ambient soundscapes to sink into. With something like a Turkish oud in the foreground and looping electronic drones in the back, "Medicine: Between Initiation" is the recording at its most mystical and restrained. Other tracks, like the synth-heavy "Death: Between Falling," are more symphonic, layered pieces of new-age electronica.

The electronic elements rarely overwhelm a sense of melody and composition; only on the oddly twangy "Memory: Between Experience" do they seem jarring and conspicuously artificial. (And to nitpick, the background birdsong on "Death: And Flying" sounds so much like my rainforest ring tone that I start groping for my phone.)

It would be easy to accuse Borderlands of having a bit of a more-avant-garde-than-thou complex, and the CD as a whole doesn't quite manage to be either groundbreaking or cohesive in tone. It does, however, very adroitly stretch certain boundaries -- if not those between becoming and being, then at least those between musical genres. Overall, it's an enjoyable and absorbing listening experience that deserves an hour of your time and a really good pair of earphones.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Jennifer Mo

26 April 2008

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