For fans of German band To Rococo Rot's sound, who want more of the same but different, I have here a potentially good choice for you. They are Danish soft "laptop-rock" trio Keld Dam Schmidt, Thomas Holst and Mads B?dker. During the ?90s, all three were involved in more traditional pop-rock groups; they have known each other for years. Now with old samplers, found and recorded sounds and Powerbooks, they have become Skyphone, in their own words, "to scratch and carefully damage the shiny surface of the digital sounds, creating tiny and melodious pop-songs-without-singing."
The album is a great effort, but for me, a rather bland one. The album doesn't grab me the way To Rococo Rot did, and I can't place my finger on why.
The track I am most fond of is 'Airtight Golem.' It opens up with a simple, thrumming synth bell melody. It is quickly joined by a synthy xylophone sound that wiggles in and out of awareness with a sort of Carribean steel drum tumbling. A guitar melody shadows this and stays in the foreground while the xylophone continues to fade in and out. A sound like that of a brief recording of two ball bearings rolling in the bottom of a narrow cocktail glass is manipulated and played with as a percussive instrument. Other percussive sounds seem to be made from narrow/band wave interference and the 'machine clicks' reminiscent of glitch music. There is something about the way this track is recorded that makes me think of a very empty nursery or child's room. It is sad or nostalgic, I can't decide which. I can picture blinds incompletely drawn down and shafts of dull afternoon sunlight planting warm orange slivers across the room. The dust refuses to settle and all is covered in white sheets. A vintage rocking horse seems silly with its oversized painted cartoon eyes in perpetual joy of being ridden, in an abandoned room.
My other favoured track is 'Kinamands Chance.' It is the track that least resembles any comparisons to To Rococo Rot. It is unmistakably electronic in its opening minute. For the first 20 seconds or so, all one hears is a pattern played on what sounds like either a pair of small bongos with their drumskins wound too tight, or an assortment of empty food tins turned upside down and used just like bongos. Something tells me it might be the latter. Then in come the trademark 'clicks' of glitchcore. This part is dominated by a steadily repeating bass fart. I can best describe it as a very low note on an electronic tuba killed midway through it's full note and tagged onto itself. A wistful, tinny synth sound slips in over the base and adds a true melody to the population of beats. The simplicity of it appeals to me, and seems to inspire no mental pictures while adamantly suggesting that there should be.
'In Our Time' has a very live bedroom acoustic sound to it. It has a strong guitar presence with synth accompaniment that does not detract from this feeling. I think this is a song that would have the strongest comparison to To Rococo Rot and other groups with this sound. There is some humourous irony at the very beginning of this track as the noisy recorded sample of a DAT tape or something, being roughly pressed into the deck and the recording button pushed is the opening sound sample. It's a blunt reminder of the industrial side of the track. It has quite an atmosphere and evokes pictures of a tender romantic scene, or children sleeping, or old termite-ridden houses that still retain their coziness, their sense of home. I keep getting that with this album on the more thoughtful tracks. I get pictures of children and old houses that have that benign feeling of home, even in abandonment.
'Oleana' reminds me of an earlier review, that of Tilman Ehrhorn's work. Tilman would be another person I'd compare Skyphone too, except that Tilman is unmistakably closer to dancefloor, whereas you can hear Skyphone's live acoustic influences. Oleana has more of that Tilman feeling though, without actually having a four-four beat.
Despite these four tracks, it doesn't grab me as an album. My interest is not held as I listen to it. There is something missing that, as I said before, I cannot put my finger on. It has no hook, and is frankly quite boring. This was out of the second set of albums I received from Foxy D to review, and I was partway through my third set before realising I had this Skyphone album left to do. This is how easy it is to forget.
I do not think it is bad music though. It is potentially a very fruitful area to explore in laptop-rock. If Skyphone matures in their development, we may yet see something exciting from them. In my mind I picture [this being relished by] those who enjoy reading a good book in a comfy chair and like some music in the background but don't like the standard ambient fare. I think of dedicated bookworms who dislike reading in silence as ones to find something in this album. 4/10 -- Munir Remahl (25 May, 2005)