Through the last few years, my opinion of Venetian Snares has been in the descendant. But from the outset, let’s be fair; while Aaron Funk has, on occasion, produced music that rarely rises beyond mere drivel – Songs About My Cats, Chocolate Wheelchair Album – he has also achieved some mind-blowingly brilliant creations: Huge Chrome Cylinder Box Unfolding and the wonderful Rossz Csillag Alatt Született. Venetian Snares’ output often gives the impression of listening to someone with Tourette Syndrome plugged into a cluster of samplers and effects boxes. At times, a sense of control is lost, resulting in a miasmic, dull mess (Making Orange Things) – but when the control is maintained, it can focus into a beam of shockingly vivid, effluvial rage (Winnipeg Is A Frozen Shithole). Funk, it would seem, is not always sure where the line is drawn between being extreme and being excessive. i think it has a lot to do with the fact that, since 2000, he has released no fewer than seventeen Venetian Snares albums, and around the same number of singles/EPs. Astonishingly prolific but, of course, quality and quantity rarely coincide. In this sense, i’ve come to regard Aaron Funk as something of a latter-day Darius Milhaud: a vast quantity of music, much (perhaps the majority) of which is formulaic and tiresome, but nonetheless containing a few gems that reveal the hand of an absolute master. Into this highly ambivalent context comes Detrimentalist, the first Venetian Snares album of 2008.
For those unhappy when faced with surprises, rest assured there’s nothing of the kind to be heard through the first half of the album. The ubiquitous (and, by now, very boring) 7/4 time signature is present and correct, as are the samples from somewhat random sources; and the predilection for daft track titles takes a turn for the scatological (“Poo Yourself Jason”). These take their place within a series of tracks that retreat away from drill-/break-/insertwordhere-core to a more modest realm of drum ‘n’ bass injected with jungle inflections; and now i wonder whether there’s actually something to be said for Venetian Snares being excessive. Many of the tracks, for all their rhythmic filigree, feel so dynamically flat that it’s difficult to engage with them at all; they neither intrigue the mind nor inflame the emotions. It’s not until halfway through the album that things seem to heat up; despite its ridiculous title, “Poo Yourself Jason” is an infectious track, the first to cause any stirrings, mental or physical. “Circle Pit” extends this, becoming a fully-fledged floor-filler, but with “Flashforward” comes the first real demonstration of what Aaron Funk is capable of. It’s a 6-minute beat-fest that sounds in no small part like an homage to (pastiche of?) Aphex Twin; there are some welcome nostalgic squelches from a Roland 303, just one part of a kaleidoscopic range of timbres and effects that festoon this track. Without doubt, it’s one of the most ambitious things Funk has created in the last few years. A frivolous but mundane penultimate track leads to “Miss Balaton”, an abrupt shift into ambient electronica, initially sounding worryingly like Ochre. Funk’s beloved strings appear, and a false start is declared; whereupon the music cranks itself going once again. A rapid, but relatively quiet pace is established, littered with lovely fragments of sound; the opening ambient washes continue to loom in the background, mellowing slightly the angular contortions taking place on the surface. To continue that analogy, this is, in fact, a superb demonstration of perspective; the ear has an abundance of material to behold, and at several levels; the structure, too, is excellent (the moment i called a “false start” is striking and very impressive), and the omnipresent 7/4 is mercifully shot through with glitches and interruptions.
My first thought on reading the title Detrimentalist, some months back, was that it seemed a fitting summary of Aaron Funk himself, capturing both the outrageous and the negative aspects of his work. It’s an ideal title for the album too, as it contains the very fluctuations of quality and interest that i spoke of before – in short, this is Funk at his very best and (not quite) his worst. If the second half had been released as an EP, this would have been one of his best releases; as it stands, it’s an irritatingly conflicted and inconsistent album. Ignore the first five tracks; the rest, though, are definitely worth spending time with.