(Tri Angle Records)
Alec Koone, a college kid whose slow-beat, sample-based compositions as Balam Acab have drawn wide acclaim in narrow music-nerd circles, is painfully young. Young enough to blithely compare his debut album to Bach or make jaw-droppingly naïve claims like, "Probably no one who listens to my music really watches TV." His debut record, Wander/Wonder, recalls the brief moment in the late 90s/early 00s when undergrads, earnestly believing that rock music was "over," dutifully bought, then permanently shelved, Boards of Canada records. (I'm not accusing him of being a Warp Records nostalgist, just a 20 year old.)
The album actually braids some very au courant threads. The first, a commitment to making everything sound like it's underwater, is tiresome. Glibly rationalize it as "pop music as heard from a fishbowl," or whatever, but it's been done, and since Person Pitch, quite often. More interesting is the (also faddish) use of sampled vocals, pitch-shifted and abstracted beyond the point of conveying anything but the vague sense that singers once deeply felt some now un-pin-pointable emotions. Koone is a talented composer. The uber-deliberate pacing of sampled beats is compelling—trip-hoppish, yet not quite that. The timing and placement of garbled vocals is informed by pop, but pleasantly confusing. In places it's flatly beautiful (with a palette bright enough that "witch-house" epithets won't sting). But why does all of this ache have to be so inarticulate? In the pretty, folk-informed highlight, "Oh, Why," the title phrase shines through, a finally intelligible question. Koone should come up with an answer.