One of the really cool things that happened in electronic music in 2003 was hearing the sounds of a bunch of talented, introspective solo artists/DJs smash the shells their debuts had encased them in. With his gorgeously raucous Up In Flames (Leaf/Domino, 2003), Manitoba (AKA Dan Snaith) turpentined the pastoral palette responsible for Start Breaking My Heart (Leaf, 2001). German producer Ulrich Schnauss followed his cheerily gentle Far Away Trains Passing By (City Centre Offices, 2001) with the sturdier, more complex A Strangely Isolated Place (City Centre Offices, 2003). And, now, young Angeleno Nobody (Elvin Estela), whose dark Soulmates (Ubiquity, 2000) could have been an undiscovered DJ Shadow record, returns with Pacific Drift (Ubiquity, 2003), his contribution to the resurgence at least in song of West Coast psychedelia.
In Nobody, the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson and The Byrds' Roger McGuinn two architects of California's distinctive mid- to late-'60s sound have found yet another disciple. But while Pacific Drift owes a ton to Pet Sounds (Capitol), its 16 tracks provide enough of their own light to comprise a distant constellation in psych-rock's cosmos.
Handled by those looking to mug (check the competent, even likable biters The Thrills), rather than reflect, Pacific Drift could have been a soulless exercise in adding break-beats to the jangly guitar, organ, harpsichord, and distorted music-box melodies sampled within. Thankfully, Nobody and his vocalist collaborators (including members of the Postal Service, Dntel and the Mars Volta) are committed to mining the remnants, melting them down, and using the raw materials to see what new form they can take.
While the majority of the album's songs belong to Nobody, there are several covers, including a dizzying version of The Monkees' "Porpoise Song." Intermingled with reverberating tones, eerie keys, feedback and heavy beats lie Chris Gunst's (Beachwood Sparks) lonely vocals. Taken together, "Porpoise Song" sounds like a scratchy broadcast grabbed from airwaves whose vibrations should have diffused long ago. It's a subtly threatening pop song, and it keeps you satisfyingly off balance.
Again and again on Soulmates, and again here, Nobody proves he can take his instrumental compositions beyond the mundane melodic murk that captures so many of his peers in some sort of suspended animation, damned to hear their songs eternally entertain hipster shoppers at a boutique near you. With tracks like "After the Summer Hits," which loops washes of flutes and basslines atop a beat that could have been lifted from Run-D.M.C. circa '85, Nobody, like RJD2 and DJ Shadow (others spinning above the fray) makes pretty sound ominous and, in turn, interesting.
For those looking for a contemplative counterpart to Manitoba's smashing Up in Flames, Nobody's Pacific Drift is it. As these accomplished young producers continue to explore their sonic identities, who knows whether their reconsideration of a sound they obviously hold in such esteem will be just a tangent, or a legitimate benchmark for a new California sound. In any case, Manitoba and now Nobody have made ambitious albums that, coming from DJs striving to make music rather than just take music, demand your attention.