An interesting quirk of today's music is that a record can be great without being particularly good. "A/B Til Infinity," by David Psutka, AKA Egyptrixx, is one example. It's a dualistic exercise in dark electronica, a pleasing and exquisitely crafted collection that's chock full of not much ideas.
Compared to "Bible Eyes," Egyptrixx's previous effort, this new album shows a consolidation of technique. There are no first-release jitters, here. Psutka is no longer trying to show everything he's capable of, and A/B radiates the confidence of a personal project reaching adulthood. He has all the 'trixx he needs, and now appears to respect their limits as well.
The entire territory of "A/B Til Infinity" is, in fact, staked out by the end of the third song. It's a schizophrenic realm, neatly divided between dark New Age-ish dirges, and dance-y numbers. The title track, number 2, feels straight out of the 80s New Age playbook. It's Jean-Michel Jarre, circa "Oxygene": all ominous pads and stiff arpeggios, until an insistent handclap brings it up to date. Somewhat, at least. Psutka seems to want something that could be played at the Acropolis. It's all very literal, and feels odd when followed by "Alta Civilization," a lush and very contemporary lesson in lurching tech-house.
Re-treading New Age is a safe move. Probably too safe. The only thing that is immune to critical bombast, these days, is the "authenticity" of the offensive: Black Metal, bad 80s, cheesy types of Ambient, violent Rap, and noise of various kinds. The invocation of a likable form of crap puts Egyptrixx in a very secure position. In fact, there are several strains of the atmospheric on "A/B Til Infinity," and all sound a bit easy. Sadly, for example, Psutka chose to pull out the shopworn Noir of British RainyNightBus music. By rights, Burial—or maybe Orson Welles—should be getting royalties from everyone who opens a track with rain, distance police sirens, and ominous footsteps on the stairs. The stuff is reliably beautiful, and it feels like hedged bets.
Tactically, the schizo structure is medicine and sugar. Half of the LP establishes its "concept"—facile as it may be—and the other gives us sounds we can nod our heads to. I have to admit a huge suspicion of records that use this formula. Disingenuous bands like Crystal Castles love it; it allows them to present themselves as "edgy" while remaining completely digestible. But Egyptrixx is a clever guy, and we had best read the title as a little cheeky. The "A/B" refers to this album, but also to the recipe that defines most popular music. It could theoretically go on forever; in reality, "Infinity" barely lasts 45 minutes.
What more than saves the record from ironizing triviality is that both "A" and "B" are, for the most part, shockingly well done. The music is dense, and perfectly spatialized. There's real depth, between a breathy aether and a bowel-quaking rumble that fulminates at the low end—exploding in throbs that are reminiscent of Pantha du Prince or Caribou at their best. The sounds themselves are nicely made, existing (again, after Oxygene) at some nimble fulcrum between analogue and digital.
Even better, the album progressively merges the influences of Arena Ambient and danceability during its second half. And here's where it all gets genuinely weird, and very good. Psutka's works are themselves interestingly, if intuitively, composed—even more so when they combine totally opposed genres, rather than alternating among them. These blend in strange ways, and evolve satisfyingly over three and four minute outings. The songs don’t appear to be driven by musical ideas, but instead by a smart combination of stylistic elements. This, ironically, is what is so attractive about the proposition of "A/B Til Infinity." It may be an accident of the medium, or it might be a sly creative wit, an act of misdirection. A+B. It's something to think about. For now, at least, that's enough.
01. Ax//s (intro)
02. A/B til Infinity
03. Alta Civilization
04. Bad Boy (reduced)
08. My Life is Vivid, My Eyes are Open