The 2008 release, The Institute Of Random Events, introduced the music of the Netherlands' Tijs Ham whose background included a stint in a Metal/Hip Hop fusion act. His latest project, Tapage, couldn't be more different. The debut mixed breakcore and glitch with a sound design that incorporated heavy electronics and instrumentation processed to the point of being unrecognizable. While the sounds called to mind the heyday of Warp Records the weight and execution of Ham's approach made Tapage curiously unique. Hard, disjointed rhythms were placed inside spacious environments and occasionally the clamor would die away revealing spare, emotionally resonant moments of genuinely surprising bliss.
One of the criticisms of Tapage's music is that there's a samey feel to a lot of the tracks and when played in succession there's an element of tedium to the proceedings. Yet the subtlety inherent in the slight variations of each construction become more evident with subsequent spins and as such this is music that grows on you each time you hear it. If you're interested in a challenging listen that ultimately reveals some treasured rewards then this act is one with which you'll want to grow familiar.
Fallen Clouds picks up right where Institute left off, with the clicking and whirring of "Ith" as it gradually comes to life like a partially dismantled, automated toy out for vengeance in the face of being discarded, only to realize there's no one around to target. There's plenty of glitch within "Drain The Clouds" which relies on an underscored, barely-there melody providing the glue that holds together the fractured, rhythmic revolt. From there the next couple tracks have more straightforward beats that allow the listener to really settle into the album. Don't get me wrong, their construction isn't what you might expect in a club setting by any means but from an IDM standpoint they're much more accessible to those who might be a little standoffish in the face of the experimental or avant garde.
This is a well-structured release in comparison to its predecessor. Mixing in moodier, atmospheric pieces like "Notbremse" or "M17w" - which seems to owe a debt to Aphex Twin with its bittersweet bells and strings matched by a scattershot rhythm - succeeds in breaking up the monotony of Tapage's approach. There's a dark aura hovering over some of the later tracks. "Laboratory Panic Advise" has a malevolent vibe and beats that slice with striking precision. It maintains a mechanical mode of operation without coming across as callously clinical. "Low Volt" sounds despondent at first but that is countered by a hopeful, ascending chord progression. Yet as the song marches forward there's an ever-present, unsettling edge to the music. It's a delicate balance that becomes more fascinating with each playback and exemplifies the conflicting feelings in many of the other tracks. That's a big part of what makes Ham's music so intriguing. You'll experience a wide range of emotions during the course of this sixty-seven minute CD, often just within each solitary number.
It might benefit Tapage to be a little less prolific. By creating such lengthy albums it becomes difficult to enjoy them in their entirety. Truthfully, that isn't a criticism solely aimed at this particular artist as it seems to be becoming commonplace for acts to deliver albums that nearly fill all the space on a CD. As a result the overall work becomes less intimate and enjoyable since making it through a release becomes a test of endurance. And when it comes to work as thoughtful as Fallen Clouds less might actually equate more. In any case, Tijs Ham is indeed improving at his craft and this album serves to build excitement for future works from his boldly creative mind. As for his latest, it grows increasingly stunning the more you delve into it.