Sometimes the hardest part of a musician's work on an album is knowing when to say when, even a few months after it's been released. "I'm tempted to remix it every time I listen to it," admits Brian Tester, one-half of pop duo Triangle. He and bandmate Amanda Warner are discussing Triangle's latest CD, * (file 13), at Uptown hangout Caffetto (they'll be playing a CD-release party this Friday, January 4 at the 7th Street Entry). "That's probably just my anal nature," he mutters as he methodically wipes crumbs off the Formica table in front of him.
Such irksome hindsight is to be expected after a project is wrapped up, especially from the record's producer. Triangle's tech-orientated reputation in local circles has led to Tester producing songs for Har Mar Superstar and albums for Walker Kong as well as the Busy Signals. After years of stints in bands ranging the gamut in style from punk to jazz to psychedelia, Tester has finally settled behind the mixing board.
Which is not to say he's satisfied. You get the impression that Tester cannot be satisfied: Both his earnest tone and the forefinger perpetually planted at his temple contribute to the sense that he's always searching for a word or phrase just out of reach. And the length at which he speaks often keeps the pink-wool-clad Warner amicably relegated to the sidelines of the conversation.
Tester met the recent Macalester grad in the late Nineties through Susan Lindell, a like-minded musician whom Tester had enlisted to help give shape to his eight-track tinkering. Warner's collection of keyboards and her jazz-bass pursuits at Macalester made her seem a natural fit for the two technophiles, so the three formed Triangle in short order. But mere months after the then-trio's first EP was released, Lindell backed out of the group for a gig as guitar tech in a touring musical, which left Warner and Tester to discover a new voice as an absurd two-sided Triangle. "Back then, we were a pop band who just happened to use a drum machine and synthesizers," Tester says. "But as soon as [Lindell] left, we were forced to reevaluate just what it was we were doing, and make severe surgical changes to not only the way we played our live shows, but how we wrote our songs."
Surgical is an apt term, considering that Triangle's composition process for the album entailed the methodical splicing and dicing of computer-generated beats for long hours in front of a sterile Power Mac G4. Hours so long, in fact, that the duo's frustration became a running theme of the album. For example, on the record's second track, "Ordinaries," Tester and Warner both intone longingly over trippy computer squibbles, "Impossible things/Have really gotten to me." These mechanistic screeches and scratches beneath the lyrics--reminiscent of a less subversive and more accessible Autechre--coalesce into the main progression of the album, incessant and ever-present.
Though these electronic doodlings may link Triangle to Kraftwerk and similar Krautrockers, the duo made a conscious effort to sidestep easy labels like "synth pop" or "compurock." True to such ambition, Warner and Tester have injected influences far from the traditional boundaries of programmable-calculator pop, most notably in dub-tinged beats that wouldn't be out of place in a later-model Clash or Big Audio Dynamite song. The dub angle is most apparent in the chill-out track "Ways and Means." Warner's vocals, pixilated by layers of distortion, bounce back and forth between swaggering rocksteady beats like a white blob caught between two paddles in a late-night game of Pong. "We were trying to figure out things as we were doing it," Warner explains. "Like how not to use the computer as a glorified tape recorder, instead using it as a vehicle to create new types of pop songs."
This exploitation of the computer as musical instrument unto itself leaves Tester and Warner daunted by the vast possibilities. "There are too many options, you know?" Tester complains. "You have to constantly limit yourself and edit yourself, especially when you have 96 channels of potential audio to work with." Ah, the terrible burden of perfectionism....
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