Brad Laner was the man behind Medicine, the goth band with the girl singer playing in the club in that one scene in "The Crow." His recording career spans over 20 years, and he's been involved in numerous bands and projects, but all anyone seems to remember is that part of "The Crow" where all the villains and junkies are totally partying in the goth club and then you see the main bad guy and he's got, like, a whole mountain of coke on the table! Dude!
Now Laner records under the name Electric Company, making downbeat, abstract, electronic records for Oakland's Tigerbeat6 label. Laner's impressionistic synth canvases seem an odd fit for Tigerbeat6, whose roster is dominated by larger-than-life electro-noise terrorists like Gold Chains and Cex. But label boss Kid606 may have a soft spot for mid-90's alterna-pop refugees; Laner has released three albums on TB6.
It's Hard to Be a Baby, Laner's new album, is a slight but pleasant bit of IDM indulgence that occasionally shows enormous promise, an odd thing for a middle-aged veteran who's been making abstract electronica since Cex was in middle school. But much of Baby sounds tentative and withdrawn, as though Laner isn't sure how far into this whole IDM thing he wants to go.
"Black Beauty" is a watery microhouse track that fades quickly into the background. "Eating" is a glitchy, jittery track with an oscillating piano melody that never really connects. "A Good Top Tongue" is an aimless mashup of beat wankery and syrupy Muzak. None of these make a deep impression; they all register as glossy experiments without much heart or conviction.
Elsewhere on the album, however, Laner shows that he is capable of bigger things. "I Shall Choice Myself" starts out with a great, drugged-out celestial melody vaguely reminiscent of Spiritualized before drowning itself in supermarket-background-music horns. "The Lifestyle" is built on an eerie, ringing RZA-style hip-hop beat and a plaintive recorder; it shows that Laner can create a foreboding atmosphere with grace and economy.
Laner finally realizes his potential on "Take the Moon With the Teeth," a huge, woozy, hard, gorgeous combination of epic synth bleats and chiming bells. Unlike the rest of the record, the track is urgent, forceful, and immediately noticeable. At less than three minutes, it's way too short. If Laner had maintained this level of focus over the entire album, Baby could have been amazing.
Despite its flaws, the record shows some insight and originality. Instead of crafting textural symphonies or head-spinning beat workouts, Laner seems content to create actual songs: short, structured, and coherent. Though he pulls from many sources (Mouse on Mars, elevator music, My Bloody Valentine, DJ Shadow), his music generally remains cohesive. Baby is an enjoyable little record, but it isn't likely to make anyone forget about "The Crow." Laner seems to know this, as he is reportedly working on a new Medicine record with vocals from Shannon Lee! Bruce's daughter! Brandon's sister! Dude!