Homespun: Bryter Layter

Two Lenses
Students of Decay

Feb 16, 2012 at 4:00 am
Homespun: Bryter Layter

While your band is working hard to finish one measly record, Joe Raglani has three or four records on the back burner and another couple percolating in his head. The instrumental synthesist is currently working on the official follow-up to his Kranky release, Of Sirens Born, though certain fans (ahem) are still waiting for the release of the double-LP Husk. Somewhere in there, Raglani created a '70s krautrock alter-ego named Temporal Marauder, whose Makes You Feel LP is definitely worth seeking out. Finally, amid all that, he has continued his collaboration with twentysomething New York University student Mike Pollard under the aegis of Bryter Layter. As befitting a project named after a Nick Drake album, the pair explores the softer side of analog synthesis — how repeated lines blossom and bloom over time and how the modulation of filters and low-frequency oscillators shift the tone and mood of a piece.

Speaking broadly, there are two approaches to making electronic music: You can celebrate the robotic, inhuman aspects of technology, or you can work to make metal and electricity into something organic and alive. Raglani celebrates both ends in his catalog, but with Pollard on Two Lenses, he attempts to trace the evolution of a sound from austere to earthy and back again. "Your Verdant Skin" hovers like a summer storm, while background crackles emulate the call of either tree frogs or dial-up modems; I suppose it depends on your persuasion. If ambient LPs produced singles, "First Light" would be this album's heatseeker — it's major-key phrase is repeated like a fairy-tale trance until it disintegrates into flecks of light. The album's side B pushes the darkness and distortion up front. "Second Light" takes us deeper into the jungle, so to speak, where the light is dim and the animal noises seem more ominous. That mix of dark and light, and of organic and synthetic, play out over the five minutes of "Closing," which ends the record where it began. Fitting, then, that you'll want to flip it back over and start again.