Steven Tang, Disconnect to Connect


Artwork by Roland Flexner

[Smallville Records]


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It took Steven Tang, also known as Obsolete Music Technology, a long time to emerge from the safety of his native Chicago. Even talking about geography might be getting too far ahead, actually. Tang was releasing music for 12 years — 12 years! — before he dropped a 12″ somewhere other than on his own Emphasis Recordings. And when he did finally break the spell, it was via two labels very nearly in his backyard: Machining Dreams (Chicago) and Aesthetic Audio (Detroit). In 2011/12, he made a huge, trans-Atlantic-sized leap, releasing on France’s Syncrophone and Steffi’s Dutch outfit, Dolly. None of it makes any sense, really — Tang’s music is clearly world class. Then again, in this age of information overload and the breakdown of localization, isn’t it refreshing to see a producer fighting the tide, practically bound to his or her hometown and releasing at a snail’s pace? The obvious question is: why? Is Tang’s day job particularly demanding? Does he have family commitments? Or is he just shy?

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The answer is none of the above (probably). Since his music career began in ’98, not only has the American been planning Disconnect to Connect — his debut LP — he’s actually been creating the music, too. “The idea for the album really started around year 1999,” explains Tang in the press material, before listing several tracks he composed during this time. “But putting an album out during that time would not have garnered the impact that I wanted, since I was still a relatively unknown artist. So I put the tracks aside.” “So I put the tracks aside“? Who starts an album and waits 14 damn years to grow their profile? On the one hand, it’s disappointing Tang was so concerned with reception, but mostly, you just have to admire his restraint. 14 years! It’s no wonder his music so often wears an aura of extreme patience.

On Disconnect, this aura is as strong as ever. Opening tracks often take a while to wind up, but especially so on “Interstice.” Like a sunrise slowly warming frosty earth, the power of its balmy chords and neat drum cascades aren’t immediately felt, but once bathed in their glow, you won’t want to move. Ears properly loosened, the remainder of the album capitalizes expertly. There’s barely a moment free from approachable groove or a sunny vibes, in fact. Sure, tracks like “Heat Burst” and “Sunspot” are more aggressive, the rougher synths and more clamorous percs of Tang’s Obsolete Music Technology alias seeming to take over. But even then, there’s a confident calmness to the arrangements, which ensures they never truly fly off the handle. Really, though, a better measure of the LP is found in cuts like “Disconnect to Connect” and its trilling, bird-like pads, or the stunning bells of “Potential Light,” which unspool endlessly, fostering the most utopian sort of hypnotism imaginable.

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It’s both very surprising and not at all surprising that some of these tracks — “Interstice,” “It’s Perceived As Sound” and “Brink of Dawn” — are over 10 years old. Perhaps it’s just the current retro trend coloring things, but like much of the material on Smallville, Disconnect has an elegant, timeless quality, where concept takes a back seat to execution. The charms of “Some Solace,” for instance, have little to do with technical or stylistic trickery, and everything to do with good arrangement and plush, well-considered sounds. Its bass is vibrant, its melodies fragile and elated. Together, they’re heavenly. Listening to this cut — and indeed all nine tracks on Disconnect — there’s no doubt Tang has perfected the blueprint after his 15 or so years in the game. Any piece here could stand alone as a great single. Presented in such large doses, though, and even deep house of such refined elegance can start to feel a bit much. By the end of Disconnect, you’ll likely feel comfortable, warm, soothed and satisfied. But after a few more listens, you might also begin to wish that Tang wasn’t so perfect; that he’d unleash a crazy solo or explore somewhere dark — even just once — rather than just pressing happy, logical buttons.

mjshur  on July 26, 2013 at 9:14 AM

There are few artists whose works are as consistently positive, enlightened, and dreamlike as those of Steven Tang. Even tracks like “Relapse” carry no malice whatsoever… Quality review, yet again, LWE.

Trackbacks

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