Secret Mommy, AKA Vancouver’s Andy Dixon, is not afraid to tackle a big concept. The idea guiding Plays was “to create the most anti-electronic electronic album,” using the patched-together analog sounds recorded from non-electrified instruments. Guided by these Herbert-esque restrictions on recording and a blip-bloop glitchy aesthetic, Plays delivers on the promise of the big concept with an album that bridges the gaps between mechanical and human, digital and analog. It’s folk music for robots.
Ironically, because of this strict set of rules and limitations, Dixon has provided a much richer soundset than is found in most electronic music. Drawing on the skills of a wide range of Vancouver talent, Plays escapes drum machine purgatory with a selection of traditional instrumentation and found/made instruments. From the bass clarinet to the autoharp, from bicycle wheels to bubble wrap, there are sounds here that I’ve never heard in music before.
Plays is not without its faults, which are mostly found in the vocal experimentation on a few of the later tracks. The vocals on “Kool Aid River” sound like Aphex Twin and Fall Out Boy had very ugly children. The positive hip-hop verses in “I Can’t Get Down,” with lines like “I’m a part of this world / like the trees of the earth,” seem out of place in a project like this one.
These small flaws are not enough to befoul the album and its playful assembly of musical weirdness. This is one of the most interesting cut-up, glitchy albums I’ve heard in the past year, and in a year that includes releases from Coldcut and Squarepusher, this is no small praise. Secret Mommy has created an album that is interesting, engaging, and, defying convention for the glitch genre, listenable and fun. Plays will be in heavy rotation, for me, for some time to come.