Artist: Casino Versus Japan                             Release Date: September 2002
Label: Carpark Records                                   Running time: 45 m 11 s

Erik Kowalski: textures, treatments, et al.
Album recorded & mixed summer & fall 2001
Arranged, Engineered & Produced by Erik Kowalski ( & Trevor Sadier
Background :

Milwaukee-based artist Erik Kowalski, under the banner of Casino Versus Japan, renders some very fine, spaced-out, chill down ambient techno - full of clever coding, baroque swirls, echoing melodies and taffy-pulled beats. Ambient electronic music often works better on paper than in sound. With a Casino Versus Japan tune, however, that question is reversed - it works in practice, but now will it work in theory? The answer, uncertain for the first two records, is now a resounding yes. Beginning his first compositions in 1996, Kowalski worked his way towards a sound and released an eponymous first record in 1998, which languished in obscurity. Over the next year a new collection of material was developed, and in 1999 the “Go Hawaii” LP followed on his local Wobblyhead label. His third offering, "Whole Numbers …", was released by NYC’s Carpark label.

Right off the top, this album, released September 17, 2002, could be a huge score for Eric Kowalski – the strangeness of the record’s tone, the precision of the break-beats, the abstracted grandeur of certain songs already make it an artistic achievement of considerable weight– but it could all easily translate into a phenomena. If, that is, anyone gets to hear the record – it’s a small label with obscure distribution. The only reason I knew it existed was when a indie record store clerk threw it on the turntable to impress upon a couple of regulars their unacknowledged need, nay, Duty to add the album to their collections. He’d tried rather clumsily to convince them with words, they’d remained skeptical, so he simply stopped talking. He pulled the vinyl from the sleeve, flipped it to its second side, cued up What to? Where for? and let the needle drop. After ninety seconds or so of playtime, every single person (three girls, two guys) in the store was grinning ear-to-ear, tapping their toes and had their paws on a copy. Present company included.

Would I put it on at a party? How does it rock?

The record rolls out the plush carpet about 30 seconds into the first track, and starts building layers atop that sound almost without delay. That’s the first sign it has party potential – no somnambulistic lulls, no freaky glitch. Rather it glides through the first three tracks. “Aquarium” is as dreamy as any of the early Seefeel albums, the early 90s ambient jaw-droppers, which means, in my experience, people are going to be more than tickled to sit about and just go along for the hypnotic ride. Just make sure all your guests have comfortable places to sit, put their drinks and maybe lie their heads. Maybe bring out the pillows as a precaution.

What’s it sound like though?

Moody? At moments, yes. Introspective? Perhaps, if you were a robot. There are convoluted beats, darker tones, misty atmospherics and bizarre musical patterns, but an overall comparison is tough. A cross between Loveless and Music Has the Right to Children? Not quite. The scratchiness reminds me a bit of Portishead remixed material (particularly ‘Scorn’) while the sheer mathematical precision and abstraction in the melodies recalls Solvent. The pulsing undercurrent of the bass however is much fuller here – esp. in tracks like "Koma Sign-off", which will just about distort on anything less than a mid-range pair of stereo speakers. Some of the frequencies getting played with here are absurdly low, but to very good effect (something early Aphex Twin tried too, but didn’t quite pull off as well). Let me say only this then: as dreamy as a record as I've heard in a long time, and arguably the album Geogaddi almost was...

Anything else I need to know?

Erik Kowalski has an alias, Charles Atlas, a nom de plume he utilizes when working with other outfits. Just in case you hear anything else that sounds this strange.

Say, for the sake of argument, I love the record? What else might I try?

Seefeel’s 2nd record pure, impure will please you I suspect, if you like the trance and drone feel of tracks like “Em Essay.” If you find yourself compelled rather by the retro-sounding electronics and abstraction, then Solvent’s newest Solvent City or early Lowfish. The new Fridge LP, “Happiness” might also catch your fancy, and it goes without saying as much Boards of Canada as you can put your mitts on will help in all aspects of your daily life. ISAN, Guitar, Limp, Manual and Mum are all also credible competitors for your electro-affections...
The Songs:
1. Single Variation of Two - 3:44 ~ A whirlygig opening of almost telepathic warmth, sounding a bit like angels playing at jump-rope ~
2. Moonlupe - 1:26 ~ ~
3. Aquarium - 4:59 ~ Fuzzy, out of focus, uncertain school of post-structural subjectivity theme done wholly, completely, all at once and forever brilliantly~
4. The Possible Light - 1:11 ~ One of the prettiest snippets of abstracted late-70s sounding electronic noodling I’ve heard recorded since the incidental music in Never Cry Wolf ~
5. Summer Clip - 5:44 ~ Intensely odd arrangements propel us along a breezy, open-ended ride of minor key swirls, waves, troughs and tunnels ~
6. Koma Sign-Off - 0:20 ~ ~
7. Em Essey - 4:11 ~ Autumnal, near creepy vibe achieved with theremin-like water music and neo-primitive drum tracks. A aural suspense exercise. ~
8. Tryptiline Fabricate - 1:11 ~ Gurgling fountains, reminders of VIC 20 compositions ~
9. Where To?/What For? - 5:38 ~ A loopy beat, hypnotic bass, and positively out in orbit, shoot the moon melodies, this track is alone worth the price of admission, carrying the listener along in a sort of funhouse whirl of surrealist rhythm, like going to the circus with your eyes closed ~
10. You Were There - 1:33 ~ ~
11. Making Lake Park in the Sun - 3:51 ~ Another show stopper that could potentially drive your neighbors mad with the quake of the underscore and the addictive, subliminal lilt of the foreground melody ~
12. Manic Thru Tone - 4:31 ~ A nicely, textured withdrawl into invisibility ~
13. Trad Velecido - 1:10 ~ ~
14. Slo Bid Bellwave - 5:35 ~ Fractal beats, you shall know us by our Velocity ~

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.