This is a co-release by Fourthcity in USA/Canada/Japan & GGOO22 in France/Europe.
Seattle multi-instrumentalist/producer James van Leuven tours Europe and the states with his trusty laptop "the same way a singer-songwriter travels with their guitar," writing and recording as he goes. While Where We Going does possess a certain sense of global restlessness—thanks in large part to the French/English vocals of collaborators Elisabeth Perle and Krista Warden—what really marks it as traveling music is how well it alternately insulates and melts into the background, each essential for scoring days spent on trains and nights spent in hostels.
A few of
the album's tracks are genuinely ambient, and many more of them are just
unobtrusively soft micro pop. But the humorous and heartfelt collage against
capitalism, "Double Crossin' Little Rat," is a fully engrossing
contraption of armchair hiphop assembled from sampled back-porch guitar
strumming, dusty beats, and vintage political rhetoric. The video for
the song (not included on the CD, but easily found on the internet) is
an adorable, sepia-toned send-up of the Soviet Kino-pravda in which assembly-line
workers at a Moog factory are agitated into a breakdancing work stoppage.
In the last
month of 2006, the Billboard 200 saw at its peak the latest record from
Dr. Dre protege, The Game, followed directly by fellow rapper Akon. "I
Wanna Love You," Akon's duet with Snoop Dogg, had already conquered
multiple singles charts. Popular music is full of these overlapping palimpsests
--one record succeeds because of its relationship or likeness to what
came before it. The Game bulds on the originality of Dre; Akon builds
to Snoop. For an artist of originality to intersect with mass appeal,
a back catalog must have already built a dedicated fancase(see Radiohead's
last three records, The Beatles post-1965, and U2 for examples).
A look at the current top 10 suggests that the price of popularity totals a Christian country sensibility, a rap album with plenty of renowned guest appearances, or Josh Groban's hair. Yet as I'm The Captain begins, creaking footsteps establish a meter in found-sound that bespeaksa high level of instrumental prowess (iced with the production help of the incomparable Phil Ek). The emergence of electronic harps and drums articulate an elliptical instrumental and the record's defiantly unpopular genre --non-house electro-pop. In short, mood music. In order to find success with I'm The Captain, James van Leuven (the man behind the moniker) must overcome easy comparisons to the recent work of bands like Air and the Cocteau Twins. Binding to them risks being overshadowed by them. Why listen to Philip Glass when you already have Terry Riley?
As the third
track and first proper song, "Backside Grind pt. II," begins
(following 27 seconds of distorted Animaniacs samples), a thick "La
Femme D'Argent" bassline and French vocals (beautifully pronounced
by Elisabeth Perle) tie van Leuven and his vessel firmly to the Mediterranean
dock of French electronica. But as the song and album progress, the listener
is greeted by subtle surprises. Intricate delicacies on the sweeping "Daylight
Breaking" and entropic declines like those of "Curtains"
elicit a tension and suspense that brilliantly illuminate the misdirection
and loss of the record's title. In truth, the deeper one listens to van
Leuven's creation, the further one descends into a world of sound altogether
gorgeous and better than any initial expectations. May the masses lend
him their ears. - JOSEPH RIIPPI
Plan B are throwing a CD-release bash tonight at the War Room with sonic
comrades Foscil, M. Evans, and Hidden Habitats (DJs Bumble Bee, Kamui,
and Hideki). I’m the Captain, Where We Going? (Fourthcity), Plan
B’s first disc since 2003’s Keepsake EP, brings much reason
to celebrate. James van Leuven & Co. have expanded their sound palette,
embellishing their hiphop foundation with orchestral grandeur, gorgeous
female vocals, and various string instruments that evoke old Europa and
Gabor Szabo’s fluent ethno jazzadelia. Recorded in Seattle and in
various European cities, I’m the Captain comes freighted with blissful
atmospheres, dreamy melodies, unconventional textures, and transporting,
head-nodding beats. And on the title track and “Curtains,”
Plan B construct their most ambitiously cosmic compositions to date. I
thought somebody had slipped in a Miles Davis disc from 1970 for a while
If there's one thing we gleaned from Bush's recent State of the Union address, it's that we need to keep it zipped. Of course the president didn't actually say it, but from the domestic surveillance program to Cindy Sheehan's arrest for wearing an antiwar T-shirt, the message was clear: Voices of dissent are, to this administration, a threat on par with terrorism. Better to stay silent and keep to yourself.
Even though he's usually holed up in a basement twiddling knobs, Plan B's frontman, James van Leuven, feels the malcontent seeping in. "There is definitely something going on today with hope and fear, security and freedom," says van Leuven. The observation may seem obvious, but it is particularly important coming from someone deemed a "laptop musician." With our search-engine queries being cached and turned over to intelligence agencies, we find our salvific global connectivity being bucked off the ass it rode in on—the home computer. It makes this a strange time for music; many artists have become almost desperately political in a time when being so has become increasingly dangerous.
The evidence is in Plan B's music. Drawing equally from IDM, ambient, indie pop, and hiphop, van Leuven's work with his ensemble (well, ensembles—we'll get to that) is juggling more complex sonic metaphors, inclining to more accurate—if not outright—reflections of what's going on around us. On "Systemitis," a track from their Keepsake EP, Plan B pit a lyrically evocative trumpet solo against a sneering drum line. Various synth voicings and samples create a nagging interplay of mini-discords. It's a sound that differs markedly from the 2002 release, Like a Ship Sailing—a downtempo affair with some nascent impetuosities.
those mini-discords are manifesting in our opaque political climate, van
Leuven and friends are kicking it up several notches. On the newest album,
I'm the Captain, Where We Going?, the group heat up the bpms and delve
into more abstract territory. "Curtains" was born out of van
Leuven's consideration of "corruption in government and... the way
our castes are built to empower the rich and cripple the poor." Like
most everyone, he realizes that such a construct cannot last. The track
sends the entire mass into a frenzied fracas that rends the curtain with
a spectacular blast of noise and distortion. The unholy of holies now
laid bare, the track ends in a troubled and desolate soundscape where
one can hear the seeds of some new order to come.
Van Leuven is big on a sense of community and participation. Now he's shepherding in his home pastures: Working with Andy Rohrmann of Scientific American, he will audition an ensemble of 12 to 20 musicians to create what he calls a Laptop Orchestra. The difficulty will be balancing composition and improvisation, he says, especially since the laptop is not given to spontaneity and its wielders are used to being solely responsible for their total music output. But it's projects like this that will coax the laptop out of its cradle and grow it into an instrument capable of shouldering its own virtuosos.
When asked what kinds of music he's currently enjoying, van Leuven says, "Oh, the listening question..." His refreshing straightforwardness makes his reply even more surprising. He likes digging through old punk favorites, dub, and soundtracks, but his heart is in the subtleties and polyrhythms of Latin folk music, its unselfconscious alternations of various time signatures. The reason is clear: "My approach to songwriting is different, I think. I confuse singer-songwriters when I ask them to play my songs. I am fundamentally a songwriter, but I write from the drum stool. It's different when you think that way. My approach to songwriting is more akin to soul music, funk, jazz, Cuban, Mexican folk, hiphop, sample-based music, dance music—music that puts the beat as the central idea of the song and then starts building from there. [They] all share this principle; it's the beat that makes it that style. I believe in that principle, but I don't necessarily stick to fitting myself into any one genre."
Plan B is,
from the ground up, inherently centered not on the ego or the Music Maker,
but on the music itself. The beat is fundamental, calling into action
whatever instruments and personages that it requires. That's the reason
for all the numerous musicians, collaborations, instruments, and genre
smatterings. It is music being made out of its own necessity; it asks
to be heard.