An occasionally brilliant LP from the cellist and composer.
For all the control Coates channels into his cello work, there's another side to him that comes out in the absence of live instrumentation. On Shelley's On Zenn-La, Coates plays with synth grooves, minimal electronics and fast-paced beats. The results can be as gorgeous as they are disjointed. Where Coates' previous experimentation with electronics played to his strengths as a performer and arranger of string music, Shelley's On Zenn-La is a daring, if uneven, leap into computerized music.
When it works, it works. With its muted, high-speed laser beams and brushed metallic percussion, "Perfect Apple With Silver Mark" bears a resemblance to Aphex Twin's recent "T69 Collapse," and is one of the album's best cuts. Over almost nine minutes, pulsing beats wax and wane between waves of heavenly distortion. It's an aerodynamic dance floor high.
Not every experiment here is as successful. "Norrin Radd Dreaming" begins in obscurity with a grainy synth lead, and quickly evolves into a kind of gallery of pastiche with choir voices and a post-rock crescendo. It's dense enough that individual ideas get confused, clashing recursively rather than building on a single concept. (That clash is also found on "A Church" and in moments of "Charlev.") But scattered brilliance makes Shelly's On Zenn-La a compelling listen. At its best, the LP showcases a composer with an uncompromising will to experiment, even if it yields mixed results.