Available on: Hippos in Tanks EP
While having successfully managed to forge something of a sound and name for himself to date with a handful of remixes and re-edits, Physical Therapy’s own productions have been some time coming. Now with his debut EP Safety Net, released via the ever-boundary defying Hippos In Tanks label, we finally get to see a glimpse of how he applies his ideas to original material.
The result could be compared to, say, a meeting between Pictureplane and The Avalanches. Safety Net’s fantastically camp artwork serves as a hint to what follows; pop culture melodrama and naivety lavishly mixed with a genuine desire to create new and challenging pop music.
Physical Therapy’s music is indeed challenging, but this predominantly comes from his use of overt musical reference points, (e.g. instantly recognisable tropes of familiar genres) but doing so in quite disparate layers. This can swing into the dangerous territory of quite superficial experiments, but at its best creates some good, if admittedly improvable, results.
Opener ‘Record Sales’ fitfully shuffles through its brief 3 and a half minutes, ’80s piano, guitar and oboe looping in sunbursts behind a chopped, fidgeting, cymbal-heavy breakbeat at house tempo. Aside from some slightly stale phrases in the percussion arrangement, it is absorbingly skewed and warm. ‘Drone On’ also starts promisingly, offbeat vocal yelps cutting through a rhythmically tense introduction with a surprisingly successful guest vocal contribution by Jamie Krasner. However, this is entirely upset by a drop into straightforward drum & bass, the mix suddenly plunged into saturation and overbearing filter sweeps.
Another quite aggravating dilemma occurs with ‘Mind You’, walking as it does a tight-rope between infuriating near-novelty sample collage (military radio chatter, mariachi guitar and horn, laser blasts) and something more serene and beautiful, both a slow and fast-forwarded march snare beneath serene crystalline pads bringing to mind DJ Shadow’s ‘6 Days’.
Happily, Safety Net seems to hit its stride by ‘Do It Alone’, which takes on breakbeat house reminiscent of the mid-90s, mashed through the typically twisted imagination of any artist invited to be part of the Hippos In Tanks aesthetic. Here classic snare chops are much more successfully applied around harmonised, soulful vocals and choir and an odd total structure, allowing the track to ride high as strange, dreamy, gospel jungle.
‘Outro’ is also a strong number, loose, pulverized loops slipping and sliding around a 6/8 feel, snares and vocal wails highlighting its actual 4/4 groove. There is something semi-conscious to it, like being steered through a large cloud of hazy activity, like DJ Olive’s Bodega taking place in a desert rather than New York.
At this stage in his productions Physical Therapy’s best material seems to be when he either leaves behind the recognisable references, or hangs them together as something unsettled and without unnecessary embellishment. While some of Safety Net gets carried away with itself, other areas show what Physical Therapy can, and hopefully will continue to achieve when cutting loose the eccentricity and making some more focused editorial decisions.