April 20, 2010
Mark Van Hoen didn't know he was adopted. Just listening to Where Is the Truth, the Brooklyn-based UK emigre's new album inspired by that discovery, neither would you. This founding member of UK electro-shoegaze pioneers Seefeel-- later known for his 1990s electronic output as Locust-- returns at a time when a similar strain of woozily psychedelic synth-pop has made the leap to indie prominence. Though not to be confused with chillwave or "hypnagogic pop," Van Hoen's first new record in six years serves as a reminder that wistfully nostalgic electronic haziness is no Gen Y novelty-- and ups the sound-design ante for the contemporary style's typically lo-fi practitioners.
Musically, Van Hoen belongs to a distinguished family tree. Originally influenced by the likes of Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream, and later presaging both Autechre's glitch and Boards of Canada's pastoral IDM, with his latest album Van Hoen would fit in just as well alongside White Rainbow or Atlas Sound on a current label like Kranky: He combines oceanic drone with pop lyricism, using technology as a catalyst. On "A Glimmer of Forgotten Ancestors", a mesmerizing 23-minute epic from 1997's The Last Flowers From the Darkness, he excerpts a wonderful quote where, in the full remarks, you can hear Gandhi go on to say, "God is...truth." Bearing that in mind, then, as well as Van Hoen's newfound knowledge of the truth about himself, it seems best to approach Where Is the Truth as an album of-- but, thank your deity of choice, not about-- inner spiritual search.
It's an intricately constructed album, at that. Vintage synthesizers, tape, radio, drums, and Van Hoen's airy vocals join with elegaic electric guitar by Neil Halstead (Slowdive, Mojave 3) and somber piano by Julia Frodahl (New York septet Edison Woods) to evoke a journey of self-discovery it never describes quite so literally. The emphasis on abstraction means that in casual settings, the more obscure tracks-- such as fragile organ-and-Orchestron opener "Put My Trust in You"-- may tend to drag. And the ones with vocals-- even the fantastically falsetto-led "She's Selda", or murkily propulsive "Render the Voice"-- don't quite communicate the way many pop fans would expect. Still, when you can spare your full attention, the album's meticulous production and nuanced conceptual unity make for a uniquely captivating listening experience-- a lot more cerebral than the stoner bliss-outs of the chillwavers, sure, but still related. Van Hoen may have found himself in more ways than he expected.