Album Reviews

Jonti – Twirligig

(Stones Throw) UK release date: 19 December 2011

Jonti - Twirligig The internet age has done much to encourage the development of music outside of mainstream media. Anyone with an internet connection can now find a frightening array of musical stylings. It’s not that such niches didn’t exist before, only that they were generally limited by geography and technology. By a lack of distribution channels.

Now, like what cable and satellites did for television, the internet has provided hundreds of channels for music. This has strengthened the resolve of math rock, dubstep, and mashup enthusiasts everywhere. The market’s so flooded that Spotify subscribers can, for instance, spend an entire afternoon searching dirty words and finding hundreds of hits for bands and songs in a seemingly endless database of awful, baseless music.

Into this bottomless pit of sounds enters a new album, Twirligig, by Australian beatmaker Jonti. Jonti’s Twirligig… it sounds rather like a circus routine that plays out every night in Biloxi, Mississippi. Both the artist’s and the album’s name scream for attention. (Imagine for a moment that you’re a musician and you’ve produced a whole album and now you have to go around and tell every friend, family member, casual acquaintance, and every new person you meet at every party for a year that your album is named “Twirligig.” Imagine the bouts of silence or short, congested laughs you’d get in response, all the questions and all the explanations or lack of explanations that you’d have to repeat a few dozen times. Is it really worth all that?)

Jonti specialises in a certain blend of misaligned beats, quirky videogame-type instrument samples, and harmonized vocals that represents a mishmash of trip-hop, chiptune, and freak folk. It’s a cross-niche of music that fans of any of those niches might listen to, though not for long. Its target audience seem to be listeners who thought Animal Collective weren’t quite electronic enough and YACHT weren’t quite incoherent enough.

On first pass, Twirligig presents fresh sounds that keep everything moving along quickly. It helps that the average track time is a little over two minutes. But these aren’t punchy tunes that get in, hit hard with a catchy hook, and get out. They’re more like a magician who sets up one trick but decides to switch into another one halfway through because he thinks the audience are getting bored. The gimmicks are showy at first, but they become stale when they don’t follow through to any kind of logical or emotional conclusion.

At the core of album opener Hornet’s Nest is a drunken beat that feels ready to fall apart at any moment. A few glitchy samples are introduced and battle for attention before some synthesizer riffs are thrown in for good measure. The only intelligible lyrics here serve as an awkward foreshadowing for the listener’s experience with Twirligig: “Stuck my hand in a hornet’s nest. They flew around my face in self-defense.”

Nightshift In Blue follows with a corny, jazzy drum machine loop that sounds like a standard sample beat from old Casio keyboards. It’s supported by waves of vibrato-laden keyboards and motifs straight out of children’s videogames. The hipster fad of NES-era nostalgia runs rampant.

The remainder of the album plays out along the same lines with brief, odd sidesteps. Spooky Sport and Twirligig feature a fair amount of fingernails-on-chalkboards detuned dissonance for those who have beefs with tonal music that follows the Western standard for tuning. Cyclic Love features a pretty good rap spot by Otayo Dub, which paired with the spacey programming and Jonti’s softly sung vocals recalls Gorillaz‘ Feel Good Inc, albeit without the driving beat.

Although putting together a disjointed beat is not a particularly difficult task in these days of widely accessible do-it-yourself music programs, there is an art involved in assembling something off-kilter that maintains listeners’ interest over the course of several minutes. There’s a line that separates the Kid A-type hypnotic trance beats that are absorbing enough to rave to for an entire night and the Animal Collective-type progressions that are the world’s sharpest icepick being driven into your molars. Twirligig is like a sine wave that maps out the territory on either side of this artistic line. By the end of it, the creative highs have balanced out the tepid lows and all that’s left is a plain old simple straight line.

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