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Published: 2002/01/23
by Carol Wade

one- Al Schnier

Fatboy Records 6636 marks the official departure point, for Al Schnier’s long-standing habit of musical moonlighting, involving little boxes and wires, and things with knobs on them. I first heard the CD a few weeks ago, over the PA at a show of another band known for its recent, itinerant crossover experimentation, in the electronic realm. I thought it was most likely some obscure offering by an underground trance-mongers, such as Amon Tobin. Or perhaps it was a rare, industry-side one-off by some electro-improv mystics, that I’d succeeded in missing. But when an old-school moe.ron told me it was none other than Utica’s own geek-boy-made-good, I was shocked, excited, and smugly satisfied.

Al Schnier has likely been dabbling in effects-laden experimentation since his early days as a bedroom beat-scientist, back in high school. But since his necessary rock n’ roll saturation on the road with moe., laboratory licks have taken a backseat to straight-ahead rock ramblings. The first time I saw al. create innovative whorls of sound with BOSS pedals and full-on knob-twiddles, was at Wetlands, circa 1997, on that year’s legendary Merry Danksters tour. The tune was "What Will the Children Think?", a phrase that seemed to me to speak directly of the bizarre electro-rock insurgency that seemed to be bubbling just underfoot. As a huge fan of electronic and dance music since my own high school days, I found the wankery refreshing, pioneering, and I wanted more of it in moe..

I didn’t get it, and that’s alright. Keepin’ things separated has never been a bad idea, and it may have taken a while, but is a triumph of extra-curricular spirit. Apparently recorded "while on tour, on the bus, in hotels, in bed, @ home, in my basement," one marvels at how easy (and simultaneously difficult) it must be to create a quality CD of electro-explorations and transient, ambient atmospheres. The title track, "One," sets the CD’s pace with a decidedly more upbeat swirl of e-hi-hat, utopian meditation, bulbous bass and orbital chill, than you’re likely to find anywhere else. Track 2, "The Dojo" could pass for the NEW DEAL’s best intermissionary, vocal-free, loungy e-jazz mellowness (without the human bodies, of course).

On "Mirage," mixed-up moe.rons wondering what the hell al.’s thinking, will catch the briefest glimpses of his trademark, whirlwindy guitar explosions, done up with hip-scratch and a markedly heavy, trip-trance tinge. Musicianship and microprocessor meddling melt together on "Birdfly," with starry vibraphone dots, tastefully tribal drum loops, and tastes of the East wafting through in raga-rific sitar strains.

The most expansive, downtempo sound environment on the CD is the near nine-minute "Beatdown2," which starts up like Tangerine Dream meets Brian Eno at Cloud City, and moves into breakbeat space slowly, accompanied by more pseudo-sitar and violins. If there’s one thing that may succeed in, it’s is getting surly, nescient, rock-only heads to gaze in the direction of electronica, while having a familiar hand at the wheel.

Where other bands may have succeeded in leading the crossover by simply unfolding in their own tracks, has the added incentive of being created by someone so broadly and obtusely interested in "Music in General," that it can’t help but seem totally admirable. "Rhythmethod" scours the outer rings with spectral strobes and spy-house shrewdness. "Down" picks up the invention with a departure into old-school electronica dronespace, and a brief reprisal of al.’s instrumental accenture.

Finally, speaking of old-school electronica, the CD ends with "Eno." One assumes British avant-garde electronica pioneer Brian Eno was solid inspiration for, as well as perhaps anything else al. has ever heard or created. This CD, featuring some rather elaborate personal probes into electronic music, may have come from one perhaps unexpected individual. But it seems that many more will be able to enjoy this fine, functional, forty-minute foray into the e-zones available, via technology, to every one of us.

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