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  • Since Markus Popp resumed making music as Oval in 2010 after a lengthy hiatus, the project has moved away from the glitch sound it helped pioneer in the '90s. Oval's final releases for Thrill Jockey in 2010 and 2011 were electro-acoustic experiments with prickly guitars and free jazz drums, and 2013's Calidost?pia! and Voa expanded on this sound with contributions from several Brazilian vocalists. Released in 2016, Popp is the first release on Popp's Uovooo label, and it's easily the project's most startling reinvention yet. Yes, the title is an easy pun, as this is more accessible than anything else in the Oval catalog, but it's still not quite what you might expect. Popp is bright, colorful, and very busy, stuffing countless layers of rapidly shifting sounds into three- or four-minute bursts. The songs do include vocals, but instead of the more straightforward, often lovely singing included on Oval's 2013 releases, or the distorted coos of the 2003 self-titled effort by So (Popp's brilliant collaboration with Eriko Toyoda), the vocals here are rapidly sliced and diced beyond comprehension. At times they seem like robotic simulations of singing, and they fluidly twitch and mutate, suggesting some sort of cyborg interpretation of pop music. What's more shocking than anything else is the major presence of beats on the album. The drums are big and bashy, propelling the songs but never settling into predictable patterns. On many tracks, the drums are built up by big washes of white noise, signaling that a "drop" is about to occur, and there are a few points where the beats sound influenced by trap or deconstructed club music, but it never sounds like Popp is chasing any trends. The entire album is incredibly playful and overflows with energy, but there's also room for a few reflective moments, such as the melodies on tracks like "KU" and "VE." This is certainly the most glitchy Oval release since the early 2000s, but instead of the trademark technique utilizing skipping CDs, the edits are much more tightly controlled and deliberate here. The electro-acoustic guitars from the earlier-2010s releases are present as well, but they're integrated in a much more effective, less meandering way. The sugary, over-caffeinated rave flashbacks like "MY" and "SA" are simply unlike anything else Popp has ever attempted, and they're truly ecstatic. Given a blind taste test, the listener might assume this is a new Cornelius album rather than an Oval release, but it's an exciting transformation, and undoubtedly the most engaging work Popp has produced since returning from his hiatus. ~ Paul Simpson
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