Release Date: Nov 18, 2008
Record label: Domino
Max Tundra's painstakingly constructed, impossibly intricate 2008 follow-up to his 2002 opus Mastered by Guy at the Exchange, Parallax Error Beheads You is the sound of those six intervening years whizzing by in just over 40 minutes. A giddy rush of convoluted melodies, hyper-precise sonic detail, and dazzling Day-Glo unpredictability, combining the meticulous luster of a big-budget pop production and the infectious idiosyncrasy of a chintzy vintage home recording (sequenced, like all of Tundra's work, on an antiquated Commodore Amiga computer), it's initially overwhelming and not a little bit disorienting, occasionally creating the sensation that one's head is about to explode. Given time, though, this emerges as easily the most infectious, engaging, and approachable of Tundra's albums so far, generally shoehorning his manic creativity into reasonable approximations of conventional pop song structures, framed around abundant, quirky hooks and appealingly restrained pop-soul vocals.
We’ve scarcely heard from Max Tundra, the chosen nom de plume of Londoner Ben Jacobs, since he released his most recent album, in 2002. Apparently he's spent most of this time becoming intimate with an ancient Commodore Amiga 500 computer, on which he recorded much of this album. The fetishization of old equipment is nothing new, of course, but Jacobs isn’t interested in regurgitating the past.
This year has bubbled and bleeped with the sound of bedroom electronica that harks back to the past, but the third album by Max Tundra - aka London producer Ben Jacobs - is the most joyful of all. It is an experimental album on paper, running, cellos, guitars and trumpets through a Commodore Amiga. But to the ears, it's a pop tour de force, bursting with bright, bouncy hooks, warped lyrics about love, and Jacobs' high, tender vocals.
Experimental pop is one of those amorphous music-critic descriptors that often tells you next to nothing about the act it’s supposed to be illuminating. The genre generally gets applied to artists whose music engages, rather than shies away from, dissonant harmonies; who are more willing to use time signatures other than 4/4; and whose song structures rarely conform to the simple verse-chorus structure that we hear on the radio. Ben Jacobs, the London musician who records as Max Tundra, does all these things and a few more.
Max Tundra is not the kind of chap I readily associate with the rest of the UK electronic music scene. A likeable, amiable-sounding chap, with wit and humour, who releases critically acclaimed albums (Mastered By Guy At The Exchange was 12th on Pitchfork's top 50 for 2002), DJs on respected radio stations (his residency at Resonance FM), and is generally well-liked and well-respected. Not that the UK electronica scene is like LA in the 80s or something, but you know what I mean.
The UK's Max Tundra (aka Ben Jacobs) has made electronic music ever since bringing home an old Commodore Amiga 500 as a teenager. On his third album, experimental electro sounds that initially seem grating and disparate weave together to form bona fide pop melodies. Orphaned, for example, sounds like five songs playing at once, yet Jacobs is able to craft a mean connective hook from the sonic soup.
Ben Jacobs, a.k.a. Max Tundra, is a good postmodernist, the kind more artists should aspire to be like. The good postmodernists are the ones for whom the exhaustion of aesthetic categories isn’t an excuse to retrofit past fads with a facile alteration or two, who don’t put much stock in the idea that everything has been done before. On Parallax Error Beheads You, Jacobs achieves his nonpareil aesthetic by taking what the exhausted postmodernists do – the resuscitation of an old idea with the addition of a couple superficial whistles and bells– and inflating those strategies a couple orders of magnitude until they achieve their logical end: the idea’s overcoming of itself (like in Super Mario Bros.