Thanks to his extraordinary ‘Freedom Tower’ album, a New Yorker calling himself Masterface created a meisterwork of dub, ambient music and dreampop which turned out to be one of the best albums of 2011. Now, the man behind the Masterface mask, Cedar Apffel, presents his new project as Two Twins.
This being Apffel, the real skill is in the production. That’s not to say there aren’t vocals, there are plenty of them but they’re viewed as another instrument here, providing another means for him to experiment. The first track ‘Thomas’ pushes human voices through the wringer more than most, the singer thrown forwards and plunged backwards like a drunken sailor girl on an ill-fated sea voyage of seesawing machine melody. ‘Bell Tower’ is heavier with beats and a more danceable aesthetic and is arguably one of the mainstream tracks on offer. On the other hand, ‘Undermine’ brings in sax and new wave guitars a la The Police’s ‘Message In A Bottle’ before being engulfed in layers and layers of multi-tracked vocals. Sensibly it’s one of the longest pieces too with plenty of attention given to space and dynamics along the way.
The second half to the record continues the quest for envelope pushing. ‘Marcy’ is considerably more nightmarish and fares less well, largely because there’s too much going on to allow it to present a coherent moment; it chooses to be jarring when it should be soothing. Thankfully, it’s a rare flaw. Apffel impressed with dub on his Masterface album and he excels again with a lively ‘Free Fall’. The lyrics promise “It’s over” but these words are certainly not prophetic since there’s still so much wizardry to follow. ‘Unlimited Rewards’ presents what begins as a somewhat random journey of alien noises until the track hits on an insistent groove which eventually turns into a blissful coda. This just leaves the final fifteen minute ebbs and flows of ‘Eucalyptus’, which shifts between modern classical and ambient; delightful and calming in equal measure, it’s just what is needed after all the ideas and curveballs which preceded it.
So these pieces are less individual songs, rather a song cycle; experiments in sonic manipulation revealing Apffel as a cross-genre specialist with an ambition to produce a modern day version of Robert Wyatt’s ‘Rock Bottom’ or Paddy McAloon’s ‘I Trawl The MEGAHERTZ’. ‘Anonymous Unanimous’ isn’t quite as consistently riveting as ‘Freedom Tower’ but Apffel is clearly in his element here and just as with Masterface, he presents music which reveals more and more about itself upon each listen.
Masterface, Robert Wyatt