Several years in the making, A Catch in the Voice is the proper follow-up to 2005's Between Heartbeats. Though it finds Somfay mining the same lush, pillowy territory of his past, Somfay's latest is decidedly unconcerned with digestibility. There are so many asides—so many hazy daydream interludes—it's at first hard to consider the work as a whole. Over two discs, the record devotes itself to long-form mood setting and lush atmospheric detailing, with one disc dedicated to more ambient sounds and the other, at least superficially, to minimal techno.
On the first disc—its ambient side—Somfay luxuriates in largely beatless reveries. As with so many of his compositions, there's a tendency to write them off initially for a certain juvenility. But that adolescent prettiness in Somfay is what makes him so refreshing; he creates techno without conceit. On record, Somfay's preoccupied with small wonders; his compositions are quietly exploratory—the dandelion play of a child. "Irradian Irradiant" is warbling kosmische for the young at heart, several layers of hyper-melodic synth melodies sifted through Somfay's cloudy, dissonant textures. "Folding Ghosts into Origami Stars" mines quieter hymnal atmospheres. There's the sound of a rush of wind, and a picture is set: A single church organ in a small room warmed by dying fire. Both "Hypnogogii" and "Good Morning Strange Light"—the latter in particular showing Somfay at his most wide-arched as a sonic storyteller—add minimal rhythms to their slowly shifting synthscapes without forcing the pace.
A sequential reversal from last year's similarly journey-based album Animals by Minilogue, the second disc expands into heartier dance timbres. With small, almost pointillated rhythms, "Amo Alucinor" gurgles like water in a rocky streambed before opening up into another of Somfay's embracing epics. The bell-tones collide and scatter again, creating a din of sound that almost shimmers. Both "Borealis" and "Algonquin" crossroad at the dilated pupil place where trance and ambient-house meet, extended bits of sleeplessness that resemble The Field. Fans of Between Heartbeats will be pleased with "Something Smallest"'s echoed guitar glaze and gauzy reverb, while closer "NoTR" returns to "Origami Star"'s striking hymnal theme.
As I've noted, the surface similarities between Voice and Minilogue's Animals are clear, though they bear no sonic familiarity: mammoth two-disc efforts divided between ambient and dance sides. With all apologies to "Jamaica," neither record focused on potential singles; they were unwieldy, crafted for a whole often at the expense of eight or nine minutes fit for twelve-inch. Those nine potential minutes would sound like soundbytes without the other 130 they were meant to support. Initially, I was tempted to criticize A Catch in the Voice for this excess. But just as often the best novels meander through your days or weeks—the works of Gaddis or Pynchon or Cortazar—the album's narrative ambient-techno may not be meant for a single sitting. But just think: you get that many more flat-aback afternoons to charter a new Jesse Somfay record.
Tue / 5 May 2009
01. Elegian Station
02. Cuckoo Spit
04. Brave Late Fade
05. Good Morning Strange Light
06. Folding Ghosts Into Origami Stars
07. Ex Astris, Ad Astra
08. Irradian Irradiant
02. Amo Alucinor
03. Something Smallest
06. Tomorrow's Yesterday Is Today