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oval - Oh (EP)
*LIMITED WHITE VINYL WITH HAND-GLUED PHOTO SLEEVE ART, INCLUDES DIGITAL DOWNLOAD COUPON REDEEMABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE LABEL* It's been nine years since Markus Popp released his last album as Oval (2001's Ovalcommers), a length of time that's seen the electronic music world change dramatically. Famed for pioneering all things "glitch", the Oval project began as a trio (originally comprising Frank Metzger and Sebastian Oschatz) specialising in the defacement and sabotage of CDs as a means for creating ruptured digital narratives, full of intentional faults and fissures. The outcome of these early experiments led to key releases in the mid-nineties, in particular 'Systemisch' and '94 Diskont', both of which transpired to be hugely influential throughout the electronic music world, setting a template for all the dissected, stammering aesthetics that flooded the rosters of labels like Mille Plateaux, Raster Noton and Mego. Of course, the musical climate has undergone massive changes since those days, and correspondingly, Markus Popp has reinvented Oval as a radically organic project that seems to be going out of its way to take the opposite approach to that of prior works. As Popp himself says: "after years of dissection and denial I wanted to try making 'real' music for a change". While that might set alarm bells ringing in certain corners of his fanbase, it should be noted that Oval still sounds like Oval, it's just that on Oh it all seems to be happening in real-time, and on conventional instruments. 'Hey' makes for a fitting introduction to the new sound, cycling through guitar-generated flurries of notes and harmonics while clusters of percussive pops fire out a rhythmic agenda. Before long organ chords and acoustic drums join in and a very naturalistic, seemingly live instrumental piece reveals itself. It's the clever use of stringed instrumentation that's at the heart of the 'Oval-ness' of this record - there's surely still some sort of signal-manipulating skullduggery afoot, but who knows what it is and how it's done; the involvement of computers remains a likelihood, but you'd be hard-pressed to work out precisely what processes you're listening to. Perhaps the clue is in the Céleste Boursier-Mougenot sleeve art: for much of the time (particularly during the shorter tracks on the B-side) it does actually sound like you might be listening to a number of small birds pecking at a Les Paul. Oh is a fittingly beautiful and enigmatic comeback record for Oval, and happily, it won't be too long before we get to hear more from the newly revamped project. Next month sees the release of a double-CD volume, also on Thrill Jockey - let's hope it maintains the standard set here. Recommended.