Drummer Dave Grohl recently directed a documentary, Sound City, to rave reviews. The movie details the famed L.A. studio that produced such landmark albums as Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush and Nirvana’s Nevermind, and celebrates halcyonian ideas like tape-based technology and songs with a “more human element.”
Conversely, consider Nick Zanca, a 20-year-old electronic producer, who was not yet born when Nevermind was recorded. Zanca is of a generation of “digital natives”; who have never known life without the instantaneous and endless internet, without pirated music or Daft Punk, and – importantly – without strict commoditization or pigeonholing genre definitions.
Zacka’s Mister Lies project can be charted through genres like ambient, trip-hop and deep house, but as befitting someone who grew up post-piracy, it clearly belongs to “electronica” in its broadest sense. As the fictitious Sean Parker said in The Social Network, “First we lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now, we will live on the internet,” the music of Mister Lies seems to exist purely in the digital sphere.
But what sets Mister Lies and Mowgli (out now on Lefse Records) apart is an impressive amount of restraint. Expanding on the sure-handed subtlety of his debut, Mowgli shows a deft touch and constant control.
From the moments the album creaks to life as if on a breathing machine, to the atmospheric muted trumpet on album closer “Trustfalls,” Zanca is an impressive conductor. Tremendously atmospheric, the music relies on textures to build tensions and vocal samples to support a song’s structure, rather than dominate the moment.
Mowgli ends up leaning a little top heavy with “Dionysian” and “Lupine” lending some feral-ness to the album’s title. Or, as Zanca put it in a recent interview, “The first side is destroying the room…The second side is looking around the room, realizing the mess you’ve made, and seeing how you can clean it up.”
And as anyone who has hosted a party or destroyed a room can tell you, it’s never quite as much fun to clean it up. Unfortunately here, not even inviting your friends Exitmusic to help can save the meandering mental manhunt of “Hounded”.
All told though, like Kipling’s character of the same name, Mowgli cleans up nicely and demonstrates some impressive growth in a short time, even if he can’t quite sit still.
Presently, it is hard to envision a time when technology will move backwards. For better or worse, these things that make our lives easier, from the internet to Ableton, are here to stay. We live in a smaller world, with less time and space, and Mowgli is a great reminder of that fact, a reactionary soundtrack to our global village and a desire to tear it all down and clean it all up, to drift in a label-less bath of music that moves us.
Indeed, the future belongs to the young.