Rolan Vega - Documentary

George Bass 10/07/2007

Rating: 3/5

Sticking two fingers up to the tradition of electronica artists who go on to licence their output to aspiring directors, Rolan Vega scissors through a reel of executive red tape by writing potential soundtrack fodder for future film makers to get their teeth into, just so long as they're kind enough to ask his permission first. Documentary, his debut LP and Best Of of short film audio thusfar, pays tribute to the anonymous library music as fished for by bigger-name acts to sample into their own work, and takes a respectful look back at old school science programmes, straight through the dragon's eye. It's not an all-retro affair, though, and Vega occasionally ventures away from the archive bleeps of his source material with enough skill to earn himself more than just the one genre badge. Experiments in ambience often produce positive results, with Playlite taking the sound of oxyacetylene blow-football and timing it against a metronome countdown, and the atomic jarring of Lens Flare On sounding something like the Sandison brothers when the acid takes hold. So much for straightforward IDM, then.

While the detectable percussive deficit on the record initially primes you for a forty-minute chunk of soppy chill, an omnipresent mechanised bleakness keeps you firmly on your toes. Vega directs his project as if he's planted hidden mics in nearly every corner of a machine shop, turning blunt field recordings into metallic scores so sleek even Trevor Reznik could unwind to them. Nether puts a patient conductor in front of an orchestra of footloose chopsaws to get them all whirring in harmony, and Something Wrong With Today takes white-hot psi trance and strips it of everything bar the synth traces. Luckily, a synthetic ethereal beauty puts many of the harsher numbers on an even keel, and Viva Myria in particular is a real dazzler, sparkling like the T-1000 after Arnie hasta la vista'd him into frozen shrapnel. On other occassions, Vega treads the same path as Benbecula's Christ, following carefully in His footsteps of pure 8-bit glee. Guitav is undoubtedly the record's mopey corner - a serene analogue lament that mimics a tired old ice cream siren's dutiful swansong before it drowns in a clapped-out landfill, and the titular follow-up offering is a burst of undiluted nostalgia, music rescued from a rotting reel of 80s energy infomercials.

It's the more scorelike instances on the album that feel the most successful overall, and Vega is clearly in his element when he's matching notes and beats to apparent imagery. Surface Cleanse sits on the wiry fence between post-rock and sci-fi, made up of a cinematic ambience that melts layers of hoarfrost with a subterranean generator, while Bells Of York ‐ one of the more brisk incidentals on the album ‐ gongs like Mike Oldfield let loose in a plumb centre. However, it's at just over the halfway point where young Rolan gets his true Kodak moment, all five-and-a-bit minutes of it. 4 Autim sees him putting together the ultimate rhythm to run to: not the Crystal Method and apparatus of Nike's over-caffeinated Drive campaign, but something more internal and organic; the half-beat chug of a clicking tongue synced with a floundering footpad tempo as you cling tightly to lingering endorphines. It might not have you cruising the net to bag yourself a customised iPod vest, but it's original enough to tempt you into digging out your old chonglers and deciding in the mirror if they still look suitable at jog-speed.

The lack of out-and-out bombast on Documentary might prompt people to nudge it towards the minimalist/lo-fi pigeon hole, but that doesn't detract too much from the stealthy rambunction that lurks in the shadows of the album. Vega's sound is undoubtedly fresh enough to get the Kranky CEOs smacking their lips in hunger, and while his debut isn't exactly a mixed bag of assorted sweeties, you're bound to get on with it as long as you enjoyed the first series of Look Around You or were born after decimalisation. Long live the bitcorps l33t.