Rage for the Machine

JAKE MANDELL IS not a pop guy. "I cannot relate to the squeal of the electric guitar or the metronomelike drumming of most standard rock fare," Edina's acclaimed art-core techno whiz says. "Vocals tend to detract from an overall song. I look at a song as a puzzle, or an assemblage of different patterns working together, not as a way to lament a lost love or whatever." If that attitude strikes you as something akin to the prog-rock ethos of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, well, you're only part right.

Mandell's Parallel Processes (Worm/Interface), with its baroque compositions and wildly permuting breakbeats, conspicuously eschews the communal vibe of techno's big beat. Yet the same elements that made prog-rock so overwrought--onanistic improvisation and needless complexity--make Mandell's electronic constructions seem fascinating. Love songs be damned: This is passionately cerebral music.

In fact, like few Minneapolis musicians of the decade, Mandell has inspired not just a national, but an international buzz. In England, he's as big as, say, R.E.M. was in 1981, or the Jayhawks in 1989. There is an excited awareness that this 23-year-old devotee of Schoenberg, Mary Renault, and the Ken Steiglitz tech-manual A Digital Signal Processing Primer might attain something akin to hipster celebrity. Parallel Processes is probably the biggest thing the Upper Midwest electronic-music scene has produced since acid house stars Freddie Fresh and DJ ESP put the "Minneapolis sound" on the international dance map five years ago.

In England, 10 years of rave culture has led to a wave of nostalgia in the form of K-Tel-style, "old skool" compilations, Simon Reynolds's history tome Generation Ecstasy, and novelty-tinged hits like Fatboy Slim's You've Come a Long Way, Baby. Against that grain, a genre of earnest prog artists has emerged--such as Autechre, Boards of Canada, Squarepusher, and the amazing German group Mouse and Mars--all influenced by the progenitors of "armchair techno," Aphex Twin.

Yet despite rave reviews in U.K. post-rock/post-rave mags like The Wire, the Boston-bred Mandell finds himself a bit of an outsider among his Anglo peers. "I was never completely into electronic music when those forms [i.e. techno, house] were prominent," he says. "When Autechre was listening to Miami bass, riding BMX bikes, and tagging, I didn't venture beyond the record collection in my basement, which was mostly classical records."

So it was odd to see Mandell, hunched over his laptop, stirring a small crowd at Jitters last December. And it's interesting to note that his music (despite titles like "Sphang" and "Pilo Plex") generates as much, if not more, pulse than most of the above-mentioned outfits. No ambient bubble-bath-with-beats or cluttered mess, Parallel Processes is, in fact, pushy and even angry like precious few squealing rock-guitar bands from 1998. While the ductile beats are hardly attuned to rock's "metronomic" drive, they're never bloodless.

And no, E, L & P do not deserve critical reconsideration.

 

Jake Mandell plays Friday, January 29 at the New Atlantis showcase at Jitters; (612) 333-8511.

 
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