Oval, Systemisch

Michael Azerrad

By Michael Azerrad

on 04.22.11 in Reviews



Oval's Markus Popp once declared his greatest musical influence was the Macintosh operating system; one might argue it's actually CD rot. For their second album, the German trio defaced various compact discs or simply pressed the fast-forward button on a CD player, then sampled and looped the resulting digital convulsions. By valorizing the fallibility of a supposedly infallible system like digital musical reproduction, Oval produced the flagship album of what became known as "glitch music."

Definitive glitch electronica, this is the important sound of things falling apart.

The softly murmuring polyrhythmic layers of "Textuell" would be lulling were they not punctuated by an unsettling, off-kilter skip that morphs throughout the album, recalling spastic castanets, tiny machine guns, or the highly amplified sound of insects munching leaves. As the tracks drone and thrum and loom, mini-melodies surface in a textured collage of molten globs and arid shards. For all its austere, utopian modernity, the soundscape is constantly shifting — "Compact Disc" speeds to a relative rave-up while "Catchy DAAD" burbles along, then suddenly stops for several disorienting seconds.

Despite its serene procession, Oval's sonic architecture is rivetingly unsound: the irregular skip is an addictive irritant; static and distortion cloak the mix in felt; there's always a loop that's not quite in sync. Joyously, systematically annihilating the CD's original premise of "perfect sound forever," Systemisch transforms it into the important sound of things falling apart.