Oval Returns From a 10-Year Hiatus With a Lot of Music


O (Thrill Jockey)

The two-hour double CD O follows Oh, a 30-minute EP released in June. That's a lot of music to drop on the public, even if it is German electronic artist Markus Popp's return after a nearly 10-year hiatus from his groundbreaking Oval project. Popp was one of the creators of the fragmented, glitch brand of electronica that, back in the mid-'90s, sounded strange and radically futuristic. The sound eventually became widely assimilated into electronic and even pop music, which may be why Popp wanted to take a break and rethink his Oval process. So he put aside his custom-made software and started working with live instruments again.

While the disjointed Oval sound is still in place on O, he's applied his editing technique to breezy, jazzy tunes that, if played straight, would be right at home among the post-rock bands on Thrill Jockey. Clicked and cut as the tracks are, though, the clean tone and timbre of the acoustic guitar, bass, and drums come into sharp relief against the digital manipulation. It's an interesting contrast to the somewhat cold, foreboding sound of his early recordings. The album's 70 tracks are all fairly short, some under a minute, so you never have time to grow tired of a particular idea. The downside is that things can start to sound the same over time, and after a while you may feel like you've already heard a particular sonic doodle.

Even though many musicians have borrowed from him, and he in turn now seems to be influenced by folktronica artists like Four Tet, Popp's sound remains distinct. There's no telling what first-time listeners will make of this, but for those who followed Oval's path in the hyper-evolving world of '90s electronic music, O will likely be a welcome return. Even if it is a little too much.