Koen Holtkamp – Motion: Connected Works // Album Review

KoenHoltkamp_MotionThrill Jockey – March 24

The electrical current available from your average UK household socket provides 230 volts of power, alternating at 50 hertz a second. Meaning that when you plug your favourite device into the wall, the electrical current that powers it will oscillate 50 times a second through a wavelike pattern. And if you were able to plug an LP directly into a wall socket it would undoubtedly sound like Koen Holtkamp’s Motion, which positively bubbles over with its dynamic and propulsive energy.

Over four tracks and 40 minutes the Brooklyn musician – better known for being one half of leftfield electro-pop duo Mountains – unleashes a steady stream of pulsing and shifting soundwaves. Once set in motion, they allow him to layer languid synths, skittering beats and guitar feedback over these uniform currents on the first two tracks of Between Visible Things and Vert, which clock in just shy of the seven-minute mark. They are meditative, pleasant and certainly detailed enough for close listening, but atmospheric enough to power away in the background unobtrusively.

After this steady diet of digital percolations, the upright bass riffs which join the party on Crotales adds an intriguing analogue ballast to the mix, mediating the reign of the machinery with their warm, round interventions. And when Holtkamp introduces the calm strikes of a vibraphone to the mix, the tune positively shimmers in its sea of organic matter.

So far, so good for the first side of the LP – but Holtkamp saves the best for the flip side in the 22-minute workout of the aptly-titled Endlessness. Here the propulsion is provided by a slowly shifting chorus of drones, before the babbling electro gibberish glides in to push things along. Its layered complexity makes it appear that Holtkamp was merely stretching his legs with the opening three tracks providing some sort of sonic aperitif ahead of the heavyweight closer, which most closely resembles Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air in its oscillating madness. The subtle clash of time signatures provide an intriguing degree of chatter as the cyclical synth lines drop in and out, making a hypnotic swirl of colour until a nasty blast of feedback at the ten-minute mark seem particularly effective.

These 40 minutes of music make for a compelling LP that offers more and more with repeated listens, especially the final epic track. But the real reason to plump for the double CD set instead of the vinyl edition is because it includes the vast majority of Holtkamp’s back catalogue as a solo artist, previously available only on elusive LPs crammed onto the second disc. This includes Liquid Light Forms (Barge, 2013), Gravity/Bees (Thrill Jockey 2010), and Make Haste (A Room Forever, 2008).

These tracks show a clear progression towards the accomplished, polished and iridescent Motion, seeing Holtkamp experiment more with grainy textures and field recordings in his soundscapes. The vocoder-esque utterances on Battenkill are a real headfuck if you try to get close enough to decipher them. While the chamber symphony exploration of the 15-minute In the Absence of Gravity Please Note the Position of the Sun offers a joyous and warm meander through a field of mutated sounds.

Don’t expect fireworks. All of these pieces, new and old, are slow burners built around shifting tectonic plates of sound with minor variations providing the action. Holtkamp’s solo work is no less structured than the slick pop of Mountains, but the songs are just stretched and pulled to their (often illogical) extremes, making them hard to digest without plugging in for the duration and waiting to them unfold in their own precise time.


Buy: Koen Holtkamp – Motion: Connected Works