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Rock enthusiasts often think of electronic music as a realm only to be sought out in the cause of art and atmosphere. Even in the hands of a band like Radiohead, electronic influences are often looked down upon as misguided attempts at experimentation that create too much clutter and distraction without purpose. The bases of these claims are often valid. The use of synthetic, sampled, or otherwise electronic sounds creates another layer between artist and audience. To work around this boundary, artists must have the ability to bring emotions out of their machines. As evidenced by their sophomore effort Outerbeats, Germanyís Malory communicates so naturally in this mode that the electronic layer becomes one of intimacy more than distance.

The difference between intimacy and distance seems to rest on the artistís conception of atmosphere. This has always been the main function of electronic sounds Ė the creation and exploitation of mood and tone. In this sense, movements like glam rock and the mainstream pop of the eighties distinguish themselves at the presentation level more than the songwriting stage. Both of these styles relied on a heightened sense of attitude and atmosphere to convey their ironic detachment and even decadence. While this music can be entertaining and arty at times, electronic sounds have come to be associated with this distance. The sense of irony, however, began with the artists who then enlisted machines in their cause. For bands like Malory, sincerity begins at the songwriting level and eventually gets channeled through the electronics. The sound still creates an additional layer, but one of romantic mystery more than detachment.

The notion of layers actually becomes central thematically as the five members blend sustained guitar lines and loops over a hypnotic rhythm section. The two vocalists, male Jorg Kohler and female Jordis Marschner, display absolutely stunning melodic and harmonic interplay. Low provides the closest comparison this side of the Atlantic with Maloryís vocals more smooth and atmospheric. Marschner reminds one of Julee Cruise and her amazing work with David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti. That trio also serves as one of the better comparisons to Malory in their ability to take iconic styles and infuse subtlety and intimacy. To be fair, comparisons become almost meaningless in context of the emotional register that Malory finds on Outerbeats. If it is possible to claim some notion of objective and pure artistic beauty and integrity, Malory can make that claim. This becomes especially true as the music and lyrics melt into a groove that serves more as a study of formal artistic qualities than any political stance. This deserves another comparison to Low with Malory achieving in lush atmosphere what Low achieves through starkness.

If this album has a drawback, it comes in repetition. The other side of this of course is trance, hypnotism, and meditation. The depth of the music makes a stronger claim for the latter experiences, but boredom becomes the unfortunate side effect if you are looking for something more diverse and dynamic. More accurately, Malory finds diversity and dynamics in subtle builds, layers, and tensions rather than a variety of tempos or rhythms. Only "Lake of Doubts," "Space In Your Mind," and "Three Elements" out of the eleven songs on the album pick up the pace and rock out. Otherwise, the songs are evenly mid-tempo and bright.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Malory comes from their lack of reference to current musical trends. Although wearing the German flair for technology and precision, these songs seem so distant from German techno and industrial rock. Maloryís music has a softness that only fits in dream pop, but their attention to tone and effect is unique. Jorg Jakelís percussion will slide from steel drum worldbeats to drum machines to various percussion toys; Sven Ziesche plays bass as both punctuation in the stream of guitars and as a floating melodic counterpart. Kohler and Daniel Hammer rely on what sounds like delays and e-bows for a symphonic and gorgeous sound. Kohler and Hammer control the programming for an organic addition that blends seamlessly into the guitars. The four musicians do not make a false move.

In making an electronic record that comes off simple and pure, Malory makes a striking case for the sincere possibilities of these tools. Although irony can be instructive and enjoyable, honesty will always be the core of a healthy state of music. Outerbeats substantiates Maloryís claim to this core.

Matt King

Track Listing:

  1. Lake Of Doubts
  2. Xirius Polar Station
  3. The Choice You Have
  4. Falling Shine
  5. Déjà Vu
  6. Painted Dreams
  7. I Canít Stand
  8. Wasted
  9. Space In Your Mind
  10. Argo Night Shuttle
  11. Three Elements

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