Michal Menert‘s debut album Dreaming Of A Bigger Life was musical gold and built a mountain of anticipation for what he had up his sleeve next. So the meantime in between albums was dilated to the point where perception read it like years. But it’s not like he was sitting around blowin bleezys and listening to T-Pain the whole time. In fact, it seems that he was an extremely busy man because his new album, Even If It Isn’t Right, is an absolute behemoth. It weighs in at an astounding 101 minutes over a total of twenty-seven (27) songs. Yes, you read that right, TWENTY-SEVEN songs. However, the sheer girth of the album is only the beginning of the impressive stuff. Complete with production guest spots from Derek Van Scoten (DVS), Paul Basic, Supervision, and Outlet, EIIIR is a masterpiece of electronic music. This album is everything that is right about EDM at a time when there is so much that makes you shake your head.
One of the most striking things about Menert’s style on this album (and in general) is the way he eschews the typical song structure of hooks and formulaic drops. His songs often have a sense of evolution, a decidedly linear progression that seems to climb over the course of the songs. “Sky City” is a prime example of this. It begins on a bright, electro-hop direction that eventually finds its way to the introduction of a vocal sample that drives the song to a more ‘classical’ energy. Whereas many artists might use a vocal sample like this as a ‘chorus’ of sorts, Menert uses it as a platform to spring into a heavier edit of the original arrangement. A continuous, upward linear slope. Another song in a similar vain is “The Same Disease,” possibly the strongest ‘banger’ on the entire album. A vocal sample is utilized near the gooey center of the track — which is steeped in dense synth & light guitar loops — to create a sort of interlude that naturally builds a cliff for an orchestral string loop to drop off. This isn’t a ‘drop’ in the ubiquitous dubstep sense. Rather, it’s a more delicate and subtle energy alteration that uses a thick bassline and high-end sounds to make the mid-range wobbles of the bass music du jour seem like utterly cheap, dumbed-down nonsense.
While Menert has established this distinctively cerebral approach to the electronic track song structure, it’s not like this has become his mechanical formula. There are a number of tracks that stand out as being a little different, a little bit more wide open, or just plain brilliant. The shortest track on the album, clocking in at under two minutes is “Circuit Whispers,” and is as close to dubstep as you will hear from Menert. This song is singularly unique on this album for heavily utilizing what would be considered ‘the wobble button.’ But despite the more aggressive mid-range bass, this track remains light thanks to the treble of lo-fi synth and cymbal-shuffling percussion loops. On the other end of the spectrum is “Winter’s End,” which is as close to a lullaby as you could find in EDM. It’s got a whimsy & effervescence that’s reminiscent of a child’s music box, yet stays danceable with a snare-driven hip hop beat. This track sparkles. Then there’s the DVS co-produced track titled “Solar Overdrive,” which is the most striking of the co-produced tracks. It’s got a darker energy that flows beautifully where other songs with this attitude might plod along. It’s got a very interesting ‘skipping’ two-step rhythm that will make your foot tap and your head nod involuntarily. Then there’s the slick guitar solo that comes in, which is pretty rare in this type of music considering most of the guitar presence is found in loops. This is a slice of that brilliance.
But possibly the best part about this album is the placement of the final two tracks “New Heights” and “After The Rain.” These songs feel like musical landing gear. It’s that feeling of staying up all night and watching the sunrise. The first 25 songs are like the raging party, and these last two tracks are the aftermath, when everyone is lying on the couch, slowly returning to a state where sleep comes easily. “New Heights” has a soothing vocal sample and this tinkling electric piano loop that brings a seriously sunny energy. Then “After The Rain” is the prototypical ‘comfort’ electronic track. These exuberant horn samples highlight yet more atmospheric vocal samples that feel like they were made for Menert to mold into a warm & fuzzy EDM track. Sometimes the end of an album can come abruptly, but not this one. These final two songs are the ultimate gentle come down.
Clearly this is an impressive album in myriad ways. But there is one glaring question… why the hell did it have to be so long? In today’s iTunes-driven music climate, rapid consumption is the key. Electronic artists can release even one track these days and it can be a huge deal, momentarily setting the internet ablaze. Hell, there are numerous, wildly successful blogs based on this concept alone. When I first heard that the album was called Even If It Isn’t Right, I incorrectly assumed that this was Menert saying that he was releasing the album depsite not being 100% happy with the entire thing. But I came to learn that it was his way of acknowledging that the length of the album might not conform to the current music consumption standard, but he was going to release anyway because it felt right to him. This level of personal creative integrity is far from the norm in the EDM scene, where integrity amongst the superstars seems to be an abandoned notion in favor of cranking out fodder for the masses. So for that, Menert deserves a ton of credit. But that isn’t to say that he’s right. While dropping a bunch of singles will never be his M.O., this album might have been better served dosed out in three EPs, or at the very least two LPs. This is a complete album in every way, but it might not be experienced in completeness but by a handful of very patient people. The fact is, a 27 song album is simply too much to digest for the majority of music consumers in 2012. So while it will be fully appreciated by some, the entire scope of the musical vision of EIIIR will be lost on most. A shame, yes, but the reality of the age in which we live.