You Take the High Road

Sure, San Francisco and Austin are centers of progressive political activism, but the comparisons mostly stop there. The Bay Area is an eclectic synthesis of fine art, upscale dining, wealth, popular culture and beautiful scenery. Austin is a music city down to the cells, filling annually to 100% capacity during SXSW (ACL is slightly more modest in size, but give it time). The Texas capital has somehow mastered high commerce, shoestring dining and panhandling all at once, and after an hour or two on Sixth Street it’s easy to forget how there is a major university nearby.

Daniel Hipolito – who records as Smokey Emery – is a San Francisco expat currently residing in Austin. But do not expect for his catalog to merge Cabernet Sauvignon cool with Tex Mex groove. Instead, Soundtracks for Invisibility Vol. 2: You Take the High Road – like the rest of Hipolito’s work – fires both down cultures down to a charred but flavorful resin. Smokey, indeed. Hipolito is slightly built, cheerful and talkative. Live performances find him sitting on the floor with his gear: two tape machines, a cord or two. The contrast between composer and his sullen, noisy, baritone compositions could not be any more jarring. Smiling hippies in the audience – bicycles, Corn Nuts, dogs on leashes – only add to the audiovisual divide. Tape loop music for a crowd full of hemp clothing artisans?

The warped growling begins during “Behind the Green Seas,” which approximates the sound of a freight aircraft with an open cargo door.  There is no hiding the central technique, even if some of the details are unknown: “slowed down orchestral tapes, but usually homemade ones from a number of various sound sources, including keyboards and really fucked up guitars.” (Thank Jon of Silent Land Time Machine for the description. Jon co-owns Holodeck Records, which also released Hipolito’s Quartz EP in December 2012.)  Hipolito offers no pretense of seamlessness; indeed, at times the seam is the thing. Loops run as short as necklaces; are often Caretaker-blunt.  If no genre tag exists for this we’d like to nominate pendant music.  The glitchy, eight-minute “In Our Invisible City” uses tape seams instead of a guitar pick, and the sample of vinyl static is cut-and-pasted so unsurgically that it resembles scar tissue on scar tissue.

The album triumphs during its simpler compositions. Works like “Over the Side, In the Storm” are fascinating – even ornate, with their open-source ethic – but are not necessarily emotive.  “Heart in the Head” is antsy, almost tribal: fingers tap on open guitar strings while effects erase all sense of proportion. “Let the Dreadful Engines” pursues like an unlit predator bird. You know the sense of being unable to run or fight in dreams?  This track has set the phenomenon to sound.  Try also “Stares Deep” (really, the track names are perfect: either literal transcriptions or onomatopoeias). This is a brick-on-the-organ melody with scratching samples and machinery incantations.

Soundtracks for Invisibility Vol. 2 is clearly a difficult album to describe, namely because – on the first few listens – it is a difficult album to grasp.  But it grasps back, so you’ll still be spending plenty of time together either way. Take the high road over at Holodeck.

– Fred Nolan for Fluid Radio

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.