Smile Politely

Album Review: Materielle’s Dreams

Most people know Chris Howaniec as the guitarist in World’s First Flying Machine, and the influence responsible for some of the unexpectedly noisy little moments that serve to color that band’s sound so well. However, he’s also a force in the local electronic scene, already having two EPs to his name and featuring on WPGU’s Radioactivity. Dreams, his third EP under the Materielle moniker, is a confident and personal document of bedroom dubstep.

The most immediate influence on the EP is the current wave of indietronica — the broken hip-hop beats of Flying Lotus and burbling synths and female vocals from the chillwave movement. Digging a little deeper, more obscure sources of inspiration become clear — the thunderous bass of dubstep and constant, near-compulsive syncopation that would fit right in on a Kid606 or Venetian Snares record.

The opening track, “SloJam”, is the most immediate song on the EP, juxtaposing cheery vocals and synth lines with crushing bass and rhythm. It’s a jarring effect, and a great way to kick things off and set the tone for the rest of the music. The album’s second track, “Out of Nowhere” moves more conretely into dubstep territory, specifically the type endemic to Champaign-Urbana, which somewhat lays off on the bass in favor of space and danceability. “A Little Too Close” somehow manages to pull off sampling “Too Close” by Next (anyone remember that song? It was actually pretty good…), and comes out sounding something like Chicago house dropped into the middle of the current dubstep scene.

However, the real star on Dreams is the closer/centerpiece “In Dreams/City Below”. The longest song on the album by a good amount, it seamlessly combines the R&B melodies and agressive rhythms found on the preceding three tracks into a post-rock inspired eight minute build, helped out by a very, very good vocal sample and a constantly shifting sequencer. It’s an astoundingly good song, the kind that only comes around once in a certain while and causes you to stop what you’re doing and pay attention.

While there are plenty of technical aspects that stand out about Dreams (excellent production, stereo effects, how astoundingly good the closing track is), those are all relatively immediate elements. More importantly, there’s something charmingly intimate about Dreams. The numerous layers and elements, the carefully mixed bass — this collection of songs practically begs to be listened to on headphones. One can almost imagine Howaniec conceptualizing the mixes and layers to himself late on a winter night, and it seems an accident that we’re even hearing these tracks, as if they weren’t intended to be shared — not that I’m complaining by any means. The fact that Dreams comes off as so confident is a testament to Howaniec’s vision and technical skill, and it’s ultimately a statement that any musician would be proud of.

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