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Estimated release date: 15 July 2022
320 kbps, LAME-encoded
Available: 15 July 2022
Arp, a.k.a. Alexis Georgopoulos, makes his anticipated return to Mexican Summer with the second chapter in his ZEBRA trilogy. New Pleasures advances the narrative begun with 2018’s acclaimed ZEBRA; pastoral in mood, expansive in style, the record acted as a dawn on a nascent, Edenic landscape, reminiscent of a beautiful, long-lost Fourth World album. In this world, the music approximated the patient cadence of geological time – the way time suspends when you watch a river in motion. There was, nonetheless, the presence of something alien on the horizon.
Now, Arp drops us deep into the grid of the city. (Or is it a complex lattice of microchips?) New Pleasures fast-forwards a few centuries, locating listeners in a post-industrial Sprawl (to borrow an expression from William Gibson’s Neuromancer) of concrete and glass, imbuing the album with the flinty glow of commerce, the sleek rhythms of industrialization, and the cool finesse of brutalism. The result is a collection of futuristic pop interiors with glinted exteriors; a prismatic inquiry into machine sentience, the economy of desire, and myriad forms of possession – a dystopian response to ZEBRA’s idyllic naturalism.
Canny and time-bending, Georgopoulos sculpts angularities into fresh, alluring shapes, expanding and contracting song form into brain-teasing sound design. The sensation the music offers is almost rubbery; it makes you feel as if you could flex, bend and squeeze your body inside out – a vivid, deconstructed take on high-definition pop, avant-garde, and dance music forms. Drawing on the promise of futurism, New Pleasures reflects the slipperiness of time, the multidirectional, non-linearity of memory; how our minds shift millisecond to millisecond from past to present to future and back again, all epochs (personal and historical) available simultaneously.
In this manner, New Pleasures recalls the way a sci-fi film might collapse multiple time periods on top of each other. This cinematic influence runs throughout the album, songs operating as though distinct scenes in a larger, unfolding narrative. Opener “The Peripheral” is the sound of machines stirring, or perhaps technicians starting the morning shift in a vast server farm. Computers chirrup, swoop, and gurgle in an alien language. Or is it free jazz? “Sponge (for Miyake)” sounds giddy, like gossipy chatter between chiming cash registers and pitch-bent synths, hyperactive 808 and 909 drum patterns pushing the music forward, detonating into dubbed-out percussion. “Le Palace,” meanwhile, launches us into the heart of night, inspired by the frisson of the legendary, late 1970s Parisian club of the same name.“Plaza” suggests disquiet lurking beneath the glowing lights; a mysterious fragment of a radio transmission floating through a deserted city, like something out of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker.
A battery of analogue synths and techniques shape this texture. Georgopoulos fuses classic drum machine technology (Linn LM-1, Sequential Circuits Drumtraks, Oberheim DMX, Vermona DRM-1, 707s, 808s, 909s) with live hand percussion to create intricate rhythmic patterns that defy categorization. Liquid fretless bass (courtesy of Georgopoulos himself and Onyx Collective’s Spencer Murphy, who guests on “Eniko” and “i: /o”) melts through the complex architecture of percussion. Vintage synthesizers (Prophet 5, Fairlight CMI, DX7, Moog Model D) pepper the album with harmonic overtones, chimes, stabs, and chordal voicings. Innovative use of call-and-response throughout transplants a song form more commonly found in folk and religious music into an alien, electronic landscape. Meanwhile, dance floor-focused tracks bounce to a see-saw of harmonized synth drums and electro conga rolls. Glistening electronic melodies crest, crash, and spray the air above.
“New Pleasures” proposes inventive drum programming in its build towards a peak replete with gleaming Prophet 5 chords and a percolating Moog bass sequence. “Preset Gloss” comes on like an advert, bouncing in and out before you realize what just happened; a sidelong glance from someone you didn’t know you wanted. “Eniko” swings into more moody territory. Snaky fretless bass winds its way around a loping drum pattern and a marimba played in a pentatonic scale. A dissonant synth clangs alongside, like sheet metal struck with a hammer, a dark counterpoint to the swishing melody. If much of New Pleasures suggests a fizzy futurism, there is something notably loose-limbed about “Embassy Disco” – a dusty old rhythm box, a marimba, and a Prophet 5 move arm-in-arm, gently bringing the tempo down. Meanwhile, “Cloud Storage,” a dubby bookend to “The Peripheral,” completely dismantles the rhythm, and in the process brings the album full circle, a vacuum sealed kiss back inside the server farm.
When asked to describe the strange, alluring sense of familiarity and dislocation the new Arp album evokes, Georgopoulos says: “sometimes the most alien thing is simply seeing what we take for granted from a slightly different angle.” In its dialogue of opposition, both theoretical and sensory—human/machine, meta/immediate, economic/erotic—New Pleasures gleans political ideologies and spiritual deficiencies from the polishes and veneers of our world. One wonders if those so-called New Pleasures are in fact pleasures at all. Another meaning lurks, it seems, underneath the title’s ostensible advert-speak. By embracing overlapping methodologies, intersecting genealogies, and burgeoning technologies, New Pleasures offers the building blocks of something liberating rather than didactic. By turns imaginative, cheeky, and energetic, it’s Arp’s most experimental and yet most alluringly accessible work to date.