erasing clouds

Tricksters for the Electronic Age: Flowchart

by dave heaton

The centerpiece on Flowchart's latest release, the title track of the Broken and Blue EP (Warmth Records), is a pulsating house track, with steady bass and enticing cut-up vocals. The other 5 tracks are variations on this style, either songs in the same vein or remixes of the title track. The EP on the whole is filled with sparse yet rich dance music. If this was the first Flowchart record you'd heard, you might think of them as skilled creators of relatively straightforward dance tracks. If you heard almost any other Flowchart release first, you'd get a different idea. But more than a major shift, Broken and Blue represents a fact that anyone familiar with their music should already know, that Flowchart are playful pranksters who are always fiddling with their sound. Though Sean O'Neal-who essentially is Flowchart-has always been mainly interested in using electronic sounds to create a heightened sense of atmosphere, he has done so in a variety of musical settings, relying not only on various strains of electronic music, but on assorted elements from other genres as well. All of this can be seen in three recent Flowchart re-issue CDs.

Evergreen Noise Is Flexible/The Spirit of Kenny G (Fuzzy Box) takes two 12" records from 1996 and puts them together on a CD. On the whole both represent the more psychedelic side of Flowchart; this is music to dream to, imagine to, hallucinate to. The 12-minute Evergreen Noise Is Flexible title track is the sort of song that lead the group to be compared to Stereolab. Though it's more open-ended than much of what Stereolab records, the synthesizers and organs on top, as well as the female vocals and taut rhythms, do make the comparisons understandable. Yet it's best to acknowledge the similarities and move on, as the songs on both of the 12"s collected here are pleasurable in their own right, outside of any reference points. The Spirit of Kenny G songs are the perfect example of Flowchart's eclecticism, even as they mostly stay within the hazy vibe of late nights and early mornings. The title track is an odd version of a soul ballad, while the song that follows it, "Glorious and Prosperous," has a blazing electric guitar solo as its heart. "E-Flare Pop" and "No Microchips," both bearing O'Neal's singing voice (something fairly rare in the Flowchart catalog overall), are off-beat pop songs that combine the seemingly off-hand nature of a kid singing a made-up song with strains of European folk music, or something like that.

Both Pre-2000 Singles and Comp Tracks Part One and Pre-2000 Singles and Comp Tracks Part Two are both exhaustive and all-over-the-map collections, the first with songs from 1994-1997 and the second 1996-1999. Both are delirious romps through various comminglings of pop and electronic music. Since all of the songs are from 7"s or compilations, gone is the tendency to wig out for 10+ minutes that hung over Evergreen Noise…/…Kenny G. Instead everything's compressed in a few minutes, whether is fuzzed-out dream-pop or ambient, moody soundscapes. Besides loads of Flowchart originals, there's also a few intriguing covers: a fairly straightforward take on The Silver Apples' "Lovefingers," a trippy, spacey version of The Sundays' "Here's Where the Story Ends," and a decidedly non-spacey, pop version of Spacemen 3's "Ode to Street Hassle."

In the liner notes to the Pre-2000… collections, O'Neal admits, "Flowchart has always lacked an identiy, each Flowchart song is a result of what comes out with whoever I have been hanging around at that time." Yet the truth is that by having numerous identities Flowchart does have an identity, that of an artist who likes to subvert expectations and continually change things up. A foundation based on change is still a foundation; with a Flowchart release you might not know exactly what you'll get, but you know it'll be interesting.

Issue 14, August 2003 | next article

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