Review: 1991 – 1991 EP

(Digital, Astro:Dynamics, 2012)

Apart from taking a moniker that might make search for his music on Google virtually impossible, Gotheburg, Sweden based electronic producer Axel Backman tries his skills in the niche of the nostalgia diggers, crafting dusty hypno-pop structures with a serious New Age edge and a penchant for pixellated artworks (I wonder if that’s Backman himself on the cover, by the way), crunchy synth lines and tape manipulation gone out of control.

The album starts with “Reborn Ice Horn”, a simple synth theme being gradually slowed down, distorted, and warped beyond recognition, like pressing the tape head so hard it finally stops. This is a reminder that we’re in the realm of deconstruction and fragmentation, where the soothing sounds are not a goal in itself but rather a means on which some interesting experiments can be conducted. The following “Fabric of Space” is an example of that – a vague hint of John Carpenter fascination shines through dusted vintage electronica with its plodding rhythm and ominous, cinematic feel. The similar pattern is repeated on few other tracks, like the speech sample-laden “Distortion of Time”, where a simple sequenced motif repeats itself with a bare semblance of bassy melody. Backman creates rhythmic, somewhat anemic soundscapes in which one may not notice much change over the course of the track, but in which the ambient elements always manage to creep into the background.

But 1991 doesn’t stop at ambient and New Age music only, his powers of deconstruction and reality warping can reach a much wider ground; for example, “Open to the Dark” is a monster synth pop jam, where the mutated vocals are heavily reverbed and relayed and plastered with a thick layer of tape hiss, into which a lo-fi melody is added, further enhancing the confusion that might result from the immediate contact with Axel’s work. In a similar manner, one of the tracks toward the end of the album, “Reborn Ice Horn (Ond Ton’s Reborn in 1991 Remix)” is a lethargic ambient (Ambien?) techno piece that takes fragments of the opening track, but instead of mangling the tape this time, it stretches the sounds and loops them for a more hypnotic, psychedelic effect.

I feel somewhat tempted to label 1991’s self-titled debut EP as “waporwave”, but I won’t do that. Not because I’m not attempting to artificually make up a genre or movement, or whatever. Rather, it’s because it’s missing the tongue-in-cheek, satirical feel of most perceived “waporwave” releases. It’s not trying to emulate corporate lifestyle in a series of obnoxious music vignettes, nor trying to sound comically fresh and futuristic. It’s exactly what it says in the name: a hazy, half (maybe even quarter?)-remembered memories from the childhood times, the movies, TV shows and video games from that time. Axel Backman succeeds at being more melodic, and more “real” than many other synth revivalists that try to make a 2010’s rendition of 80’s and 90’s electronic music. And we should praise him for that.


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