Oval O

Oval O
Like a thirsty man discovering an oasis, Markus Popp follows a decade-long silence with an overflow of sound: a two-CD/70-track reboot of his Oval project. It turns out to be a miniature epic though, with only 15 pieces cracking the two-minute mark. For these, Popp turns out prepared guitar and free-play drum sequences that are given modest-to-fairish digital post-production, taking them out of the purely acoustic world and into the electronic. The result is a guitar sound that is "live," but often beyond the capacity of actual human performance. This familiar-made-peculiar is the musical equivalent of poetry versus everyday speech. The liveliness of pieces like "Ah!" suggests a cyber-enhanced Michael Hedges fronting Tortoise. The other 80 percent of the album is composed of minimalist guitar treatments that catch and release the imagination one after another. The tight zing and bend of notes carry a slight Oriental charge but, incredibly, there is very little overlap or repetition despite the modest spectrum of sound. Also incredibly, through a ten-year gap, a complete shift in approach, software and even ideology, Popp has managed to make what still sounds like an Oval album ― possibly the best one of his career.

Do you think you would have made this album if you hadn't taken a long break from Oval?
I always knew I was going to be back one day, albeit not at all cost, with any kind of music. The results would have to be good enough, that was all that counted. Okay, once I was one month's rent away from sleeping in my car, I figured it might be a good idea to start wrapping things up.

Does the large track count and brevity of the pieces reflect how you, and listeners, interact with information these days?
My primary concern was to give each track a chance to truly shine by cramming as much "associative power" and irresistible emotionality into the smallest possible space. The sheer "visual" potential of these short tracks has the power to lock you into a staring contest for a pretty long time.

What was the hardest part about making O?
To convincingly turn Oval from a lean-forward to a lean-back experience without sacrificing any of the achievements of the former Oval albums. And instead to confidently challenge music on its own turf without being a crappy songwriter. (Thrill Jockey)