Back in the early/mid-2000s, the rising ubiquity of social media made places like MySpace and a then-burgeoning YouTube the digital centre for creativity. Artists had a new medium for disseminating their works to a huge group of consumers that, otherwise, would have never been aware of their music without the support of a label.
Some of these artists labeled themselves “bedroom” musicians, named such because the advent of home studios made it easy to produce music in one’s own bedroom, especially through programs such as GarageBand. This decade, the term is often associated with amateurish, lo-fi recordings that are intended to sound unprofessional (and has arguably become a circle-jerk), but that wasn’t always the case. Originally, it was a celebration of how music can be made by anyone in the information age.
Oliver Thomas Johnson, who produces music as Dorian Concept, is one of those bedroom producers who made it. Having studied at the University of Applied Sciences in Salzburg, Austria, Johnson demonstrates a level of technical skill that impressed Ninja Tune record label, BBC Radio host Mary Anne Hobbs (compiler of the early dubstep/garage mix Warrior Dubz), and even one of Johnson’s favorite bands, Cinematic Orchestra. Johnson moved on from his trademark Mikrokorg synthesizer to analogue instruments, which is demonstrably shown on Joined Ends in all their organic lushness. Joined Ends is a pretty album, and one that’s hot for the bedroom or as furniture music, but for all its beauty there is a frustrating lack of tension and risk that makes for heady or enrapturing listening.
Joined Ends opens up with The Sky Opposite, a quintessential downtempo opening track that primes you for the chill-out nature of Ann River, MN. Both would make a prime addition to Air‘s output. Following track Mint is an album highlight, featuring a wonderful bit of quirkiness that Johnson displayed in his remix work on tracks by Letherette and Emora. Side two track The Few is a fine analogue breakdown, even getting in some of the arpeggio electric piano that made his D&T EP so incredibly fun. Other than those few (pun totally, entirely intended) tracks though, there isn’t much to capture. Once you’ve heard the first several tracks plus The Few, you’ve heard the whole album.
It’s as if Johnson couldn’t decide whether he were making an album for the ecstasy room or the chill-out room. There are breaks, but it’s all played safe. It’s the same problem that Steve Hauschildt had with Sequitur, and to a lesser extent the prior Tragedy & Geometry. Joined Ends isn’t a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s dull. Stuff goes on, but not enough happens. Trophies is a great example; each element’s subtraction/addition and every break is anticlimatic. 11.04.2012 has the fade-in/fade-out vocals that Moiré did better on Shelter.
The album played too safe – way too safe. This is the guy who gave us some pretty abstract shenanigans on Her Tears Taste Like Pears, so as Joined Ends plays, all my ears want is for Johnson to push the envelope ever so much more. Johnson has made some heady music in the past, which makes Joined Ends seem all the more reticent.
If you’re in the mood for something great for background listening, then play Joined Ends, and play all it way through. It’s prime furniture electronica that’s head-nodding and flowy without being too assertive. Johnson has the wherewithal to nail the game either way he chooses. If he wants the enigmatic business, then the studio route is the way to go; but if he wants to go down the downtempo tract, then perhaps he should look toward his bedroom roots. For now though, Joined Ends is torn between two grand ideas.