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Posted November 11, 2008 by Mike Mineo in Features
 
 

Populous and Short Stories

Longtime fans of punk music would likely consider it an unwarranted insult if one related the duration of a song to the peak of the listener’s attention span. From legendary groups like Wire to the aptly named Minutemen, some of punk’s greatest innovators have made their mark by producing hundreds of songs under the standard length of three minutes. Contrary to the beliefs of some though, it was not done because a particular fan base had the attention span of a young child. But rather, the excitable nature of the music was designed best for concise displays of brilliance that allowed each song to flourish without unnecessarily overburdening attempts at structural or melodic transitions. Consisting in the same realm of electronic music that would be most commonly defined as the most “intelligent” of its kind, Andrea Mangia is crafting an impressive array of work under a similar ideology with his Populous moniker. However, instead of employing raucous guitar riffs and a vivacious rhythm section to supplement his sound, his stylistic leanings gravitate toward electronic and, more specifically, IDM. IDM once again reminds us of that “intelligent” tag, further reinforcing the fact that duration holds no relevance to a listener’s personal capacity. Mangia’s songs rarely exceed three minutes, but he manages to make each and every second count in his successful attempts to create audibly soothing atmospheres in a spectacular manner.

While it is true that only four of the sixteen tracks on the third release from Populous, Drawn in Basic, exceed three minutes in length, it holds little relevance apart from the fact that it provides an enriching example of how Mangia is able to create satisfying efforts in such a small amount of time. It is not that he has always made use of this formula; his debut in 2002, Quipo, was typical in length for its stylistic groupings of warmly textured electronic-pop and 2005’s Queue for Love was similar in addition to the fact that it proved to be Magnia’s most stylistically ambitious with admirable uses of soul and jazz within his familiar display of ambient electronica. Proving synonymous with the way his past two releases have been at least somewhat stylistically different from one another, the unique aspect of Drawn in Basic applies more to the delivery that Magnia has opted to take instead of the stylistic territory he has chosen to explore. He still employs a similar form of electronica that borrows conceptual ideals from genres like shoegaze, dream-pop, and even jazz, but Drawn in Basic contains a higher emphasis on pop music than its preceding releases, thanks mainly in part to a newly recruited vocalist by the name of Michael McGuire, better known as MC Short Stories.

As a vocalist whose high-pitched, boyish vocals add a plethora of new hooks to Mangia’s style of electronica (one of which was already very melodically appealing), McGuire’s addition also does wonders in exploring the overall diversity on an album like Drawn in Basic. At its heart, it is an exhilarating late-night listening experience that capitalizes on Magnia’s ability to craft enthralling melodies and captivating atmospheric elements within a scope that often falls under three minutes. Often, some listeners get intimidated by the sheer length and matter of build-up in ambient electronica, but Mangia must have understood that the effect of pop-oriented vocals over the sounds of twinkling electronica has an undeniable effect on a song’s durability. “Only Hope”, one of the album’s most structurally conventional efforts, contains a soothing series of subdued keys over a whirring synth pad as the relaxed composure of McGuire stays true to the melodic composition at hand. The chorus in this track shows the listener specifically of McGuire’s true influence on Mangia’s sound. Instead of relying on instrumental aspects to create a successful transition, the use of vocal harmony and intensified ardency are both simultaneously implemented to establish the track’s primary hook. Mangia’s most ambitious songwriting arrives on instrumental gems like “Days”, “Younger”, and “Raimondo”, the latter being a very interesting track whose 1:03 length just simply begs for more. This is the only fault I have with some tracks on Drawn in Basic; a few just end too soon and fail to capitalize on a very innovative premise.

With Drawn in Basic and all of Populous’ previous albums being released by the Morr Music label, it is no surprise that an ambitious electronic producer/songwriter like Mangia is one of the current mainstays. The Italian native’s mixture of dreamy shoegaze and minimalistic IDM is prevalent on a track like “Faithful”, while his best showing of pure electro-pop is most prevalent in the gripping “Royal Gold”. The amount of diversity seen when comparing these two tracks alone is astounding, especially when considering that a casual observer would note them as being in a similar realm. But like all who value the varying components of sub-genres within electronica, it is easy to detect Mangia’s sheer ability. While not exactly coinciding with Junior Boys’ standard of utilizing a very bustling rhythmic accompaniment over their synth-led arrangements, Mangia and McGuire prove most suitable for a track like “Royal Gold”. The melodic content is often simplistic, but the very subtle melodic shifts and atmospheric additions make for a ripple effect as they all come together to craft something of gracefully blissful nature. And this is exactly what the bulk of Drawn in Basic is: a wildly impressive display of songs that are as effectively atmospheric as they are melodically stimulating. Based on his diversity as an artist and ability as a songwriter, Mangia remains a name to look out for in the field of diversified electronica.

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Populous – Royal Gold

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/popul-roy.mp3]

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Populous – Raimondo

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/popul-rai.mp3]

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Populous – Only Hope

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/popul-onl.mp3]

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Mike Mineo

 
I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound. I used to write for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to [email protected].