Label: Feral Media
Release Date: 16/03/2015
TheMusic.com.au, April 21 2015
The beauty of Chris Perren’s musical outlets is not just their pushing of sonic boundaries, but finding the beauty in each aural exploration.
So it goes with Sunrise Industry, his first solo foray under the Software of Seagulls guise. The quilted tapestry of sounds isn’t an academic extrapolation; rather it’s an all-encompassing celebration of sound as life. From the warm skittish percussion and rhythms of the title track to the cut-up stagger of Adelaide St and apocryphal haunt of Redundant Array Of Different Worlds – Perren creates a world of constant appropriation, rediscovery and, ultimately, joy.
Chris Perren is the busy gent behind classical-alternative crossover outfit Nonsemble, among many other things, including those old post-rockers Mr. Maps. Also, Software Of Seagulls, yet another Perren project, has just popped its debut full-length.
With so many competing interests, it’s intriguing to try and work out where the album, Sunrise Industry, fits into the cycle of styles which turns over in Chris’ work, as those styles consistently melt into each other. As someone so fundamentally interested in the idea of crossing-over, trying to bring the classical and indie worlds together in Nonsemble and -really- most things he does, all this bleed is not surprising and I’m always curious to hear how he splices up his diverse inspirations.
Software Of Seagulls has a lot of electronics in its back-catalogue and this latest release is coming out on Feral Media so you’d be forgiven for expecting some slightly experimental beats. While that’s there, it’s hardly the overriding theme. If anything Sunrise Industry harks back to the post-rock of Mr. Maps. One of the things that I always liked about Mr. Maps was the inherently warm and upbeat quality of their sound, setting them apart from so many of the po-faced serious and dully formulaic post-rockers in the sensitive, white, college student world of music. Software Of Seagulls’ have also name-checked the relentless, synth-laden, post-rock fusion of 65Daysofstatic as a recent influence and you can easily hear the debt to their muscular, but still shimmering and shining heat.
The rollicking beat of the album’s opening and title-track is full of atmospheric warmth and a sense of restrained anticipation. There are touches of the pop-minimalism of Philip Glass, but these really are only touches. The acoustic guitar and increasingly complex rhythm, along with the relatively thickly orchestrated winds more solidly draw on the thoroughly Scandinavian sounds of Jaga Jazzist, something I’m always happy to be reminded of.
The electronics and in particular the editing suite make themselves felt on the more cautious track that follows, Adelaide St.. Jump cuts disorient but give way to layer upon layer of sounds topped by an infectious pound of both kit and electronic beats: we’re properly into that hard fusion rocking.
Perhaps trying to prove that it’s not all warmth and good times, Carve Silence Into Me maxes out on guitar and synth distortion, burying everything else, even the scintillating harmonies trying to sneak over the top; it certainly is a contrast. A sultry violin solo twists through the towering silence that follows on Redundant Array of Independent Worlds, joined by echoing, bluesy guitar chords and a rising wave of ambience that rolls in, like a distant but closing storm.
Funky, synth-rock brings the sound back to that main game in And Yet Dreams: a thrumming display of power worthy of a good Trans Am cut. The specter of the neo-classical appears in angelic piano-chords over the sound of crunching footsteps and backed by even more ghostly guitar-work: very reflective, but making 2am Jungle Gym rather manipulatively winning.
The album closer, Sunset Industry is the most traditional post-rocker of the lot, with its six-minute trajectory into maximally explosive power, but it doesn’t abandon the interesting rhythms or synth sounds, turning a guilty pleasure into a well-rounded finish.
I’m not sure what anyone else was expecting from a Software Of Seagulls record, but if it was this, they’re much more on the ball than I am. It recapitulates many of the themes of Chris Perren’s music -most obviously post-rock and synth-pop- and capitalises on the growing depth of the knowledge and skills collected by he and his compadres. Sunrise Industry gets busy being one of the best post-rock records we’re likely to hear this year.
If paired differently, the names of artist and album would make more sense: “Seagull Sunrise” and “The Industry of Software.” The fact that Chris Perren mixes them up is a sign that the album is a hybrid. (We also doubt we’d review an album called Seagull Sunrise.)
The seven pieces on this album began as fragments: instrumental improvisations and dialogue from old, spliced tapes. The press release references The Books, but Software of Seagulls is less abstract; Perren’s post-rock leanings put him somewhere between The Books and Lemon Jelly. These are most apparent on the title track, which features acoustic guitar in the foreground, electric guitars in the background, a web of electronic manipulations and a few bright sentences. Sunrise Industry is a happy album, as happy as golf (see the video below), relaxed enough to wear plaid pants and good enough to get away with it.
When one hears the violin or rhythm section, one thinks of a live band rather than a series of pre-recorded snippets. Perren’s strength is to weave disparate elements into a pleasing tapestry. Many people think about doing such a thing: I like the bassline, but not the words; I like the bridge, but not the chorus. Thanks to his software, Perren is able to extract the best segments of his donated samples. His work is akin to that of a collector whose works are selected for display; presentation is key.
While at times the album wanders into drone (“Carve Silence Into Me”) or even modern composition (“Redundant Array of Independent Worlds”) Sunrise Industry is most successful when it throws open the windows to spring. “And Yet Dreams” possesses the ebullience of Public Service Broadcasting’s “New Dimensions in Sound”, thanks to its upbeat tempo and hopeful samples: “Tomorrow will be as happy as new … what’s next?” It’s a reminder of the optimism of the 80s, when so much music was shiny and new, although the sample stems from an earlier era of optimism. Perren weaves the music around the words, lending it the starry-eyed nature of an early World’s Fair. The same holds true for the fantasy-tinged “2AM Jungle Gym”, built around soft piano and a child’s exclamation, “Wonderful … the whole town to ourselves!” We hope that Perren will continue in this direction; we receive a lot of music that focuses on nostalgia, but far too little that embraces joy.
Software of Seagulls: Sunrise Industry opening track immediately made me think of Northbound: Landscapes of Late, a release that after almost nine years since it first came out I still enjoy listening to. I couldn’t quite place my finger on why I felt there was a connection, but I felt it. And, as it turns out, Chris Perren’s work on this release could be seen as the next step beyond Northbound’s work.
So, to understand why I felt the connection between Northbound and Software of Seagulls, I should explain what Northbound did. I explained originally:
Northbound has taken the time to do something that most artists on the netlabels haven’t: they have taught themselves how to play all of the instruments that they wanted to use in the recording. They taught themselves minimally enough to create samples to use on each of the tracks, and then looped and layered the sounds into sonic portraits that have fresh and unique qualities…
Chris Perren has taken a different approach, but the results have a similar resonance. While studying for a PhD in music composition, he began taking samples from improvised performances, found sounds, and other bits and pieces and assembling them into songs. As a result, the opening track of this release has a very similar feeling to Northbound’s work.
However, Perren goes to the next step in two ways. First, his works don’t have the same looped-and-layered feeling of Northbound. Second, his compositions take on a depth and maturity that Northbound wasn’t able to capture.
Take And Yet Dreams: this track starts off with a sequence of chopped up samples that sound like an organ. But as the piece builds, a full drum kit enters into the piece, and an electric piano forms the harmonic underpinnings of the whole composition. Occasional interjections of phrases interact with the composition itself in a playful manner, helping to push the piece forward.
Also, sometimes the sonic palette of a song might sound like it is completely different from others. Like Carve Silence Into Me. It has a very distorted, harsh sound at first, but still there is some control over the tones being produced. However, when placed next to And Yet Dreams, it becomes somewhat more obvious that there is a relationship between these pieces: they are using similar sonic palettes, however the perspective of these sounds is completely different.
Overall, the affects of this release are still burning in my mind. It’s a real journey to go on, and one that I am extremely happy to have explored. I would talk about more of the pieces on this release, but I want to leave ground for you to explore. There is a lot here, and it is very rewarding.
Chris Perren started Software of Seagulls as a part of his PhD studies in composition. I don’t know what it is about electronic musicians who are doing PhD or Masters studies, but this is the second case (the first was Fingerprint’s Delusions of Graindeur) of me listening to a release from a student that has thrilled and engaged me in ways that other releases haven’t. And, I can only say that I welcome it.
George De Bruin