In a city as musically varied as Burlington, it's odd that so few local artists are involved in laptop composition and experimental electronics. Maybe there's a whole community of Pro Tools-tweaking knob-twiddlers hiding away in their bedrooms out there, but they aren't releasing any albums.
One exception is area music vet Casey Rea (he swaps the vowels in his surname for his recording persona). A longtime contributor to the Burlington scene as a solo artist, producer and leader of Rocketsled, Rea has spent the past couple of years toiling away at his computer, creating a unique form of lush electronica.
His first solo disc, Cult of the Dead Rockstar, was a frightening, drug-addled journey into the darkest corners of Rea's mind. But his second effort, The Contrarian, is a much more soothing -- but no more subtle -- adventure. Filled with hazy melodies and subsonic beats, it's an intriguing listen. The Goth chill is still there, but the new record is less of a soul-baring exhumation. Here Rea seems content to simply experiment with sound. Genres such as microhouse, trip-hop, ambient and glitch pop up, only to be washed over by another change of style. Yet the album doesn't feel scattered. Actually, The Contrarian's 11 tracks maintain a remarkable cohesion for music that is so uncategorizable.
Opening with a flurry of scattershot beats and Rea's cresting, wordless vocals, the record soon moves into the acoustic guitar and swirling synths of "Gorbachev's Stain." Crusty beats rattle through the track, rubbing up against a lazy melody. You can tell that Rea comes from a songwriting -- and guitar-playing -- background. Most of the tracks feature some sort of vocal, and almost all contain some six-string action, albeit often processed beyond recognition. "Blue State/Fashionista" is one of the more abstract cuts, consisting of rusty rattles and a constant, digitally fucked-with drip of water.
The highlight of the disc is the final track, "Klaus." Inspired by fiery actor Klaus Kinski, the track is a swelling epic that drifts through a number of movements. Chunky guitar strums and sampled cackles launch the piece as a steady drum kick cuts through the fog. Next, the track is deconstructed and rebuilt, riding noir samples before exploding into jackhammer drum 'n' bass. Finally, the wall of sound recedes, beginning a long, delicate decay.
Equal parts noisy trickery and floating beauty, The Contrarian is prime, late-night listening for any fan of experimental music.
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