Somnambule - Writing About Music

Icarus ~ I Tweet The Birdy Electric

Are Icarus referencing Walt Whitman’s poem, Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi short story or the seminal electric jazz album by Weather Report? There’s some distinct twittering on at least a couple of tracks, so my money’s on the quick pun. Although the title’s throwaway humour doesn’t entirely do the music it precedes justice, there is a distinct strain of playfulness discernible throughout this album. First impressions of the music are of playful, skittering beats combined with frisky turntable manipulations: has Squarepusher left his Aphex Twin and Jaco Pastorius obsessions behind and taken up instead with a new mistress by the name of Free Improv? I Tweet The Body Electric might just be the record of their first flush of love.

Track one, ‘Ganglion’, achieves the remarkable feat of delivering beats which are simultaneously frenetic and low-key. A variety of small-scale sonic events are borne along on these beats which together convey the impression of a Jimmy Guiffre remix of Prime Time (while Ornette Coleman’s on a teabreak) transposed to 2004. Alternatively, picture the aforesaid Squarepusher nursing a hangover, bumping into Dialogue-era Fourtet in the street and deciding to go for a cooked breakfast together. Interesting.

‘Essen’ and ‘Mutations’, led astray by eery acoustic piano, are just a touch reminiscent of the atmosphere of Schoenberg’s serialism. Jokun’s Civet (Icarus do give good track titles) pulls its coat collars together and hunches up round scrofulous guitar, all scurrying harmonics and harrassed strums. All three tracks attract dramatic arhythmic percussion like filings round a magnet. ‘Frogmatik’ introduces the flexed biscuit tin lid to the world in the starring role of rhythm device, then tries to murder a guitar with a small spectrum. ‘Pots And Reeds’ despite its title initially sounds like a duet between kazoo and hamster cage.

Icarus have clearly been on some moonlight raids to their local junkyard. Once home their ill-gotten gains are evidently marshalled into some sort of order, though their musical forms are still rather ragged at the edges. Such reference to organised free improvisations, though surely oxymoronic, is not intended as criticism - in fact it’s a distinct commendation. Icarus’s junkyard improv aesthetic is rendered more distinctive by its marriage to racing pitter-patter percussion which frequently travels so quickly and in such a higgledy-piggledy manner that it appears to be ongoingly in the act of tripping up. Due to the lack of low frequency instrumentation the music generally feels fleet of foot which when combined with fast moving tempos on a number of tracks provides the aural equivalent of ice-skating (though you may be a little less likely to twist an ankle listening to Icarus). One or two tracks may be a tad overlong, but generally I Tweet The Body Electric opens the door on a beguiling and original soundworld, at times frenetic, at times mournful, but fascinatingly detailed and frequently a lot of fun.
Colin Buttimer
April 2004
Published by BBC