Like the writing in his unpublished novel, Reality Slap, Neil Ollivierra’s creative gifts in music and painting have been used to explore themes of city space, blackness and the creative process. But unlike his paintings, which hold shapes that seem to fill the canvas like film stills from Tron, Ollivierra’s music touches a level of arrangement and emotion that his static paintings have never achieved alone. It is in his music, in the handful of overlapping EPs, singles and “albums” that he has made as Detroit Escalator Co., where Ollivierra has excelled.
Black Buildings — which is not to be confused with the 2000 EP of the same name, which features a number of tracks also on the new LP — continues where his earlier music left off. The songs here act as finite sonic environments, most only a few minutes in duration, which use slower, ambient textures to kill off techno’s dance-floor straitjacket (inherited from house) in favor of explorations into mood and space.
Pieces end almost as quickly as they come, with normally one strong original theme, provided by a bass line or synthesizer, repeating to hold the piece together. Though ambient in nature, there is percussion throughout the album, reminiscent of drum-and-bass, but without the “Amen”-slap, adding and releasing tension as the track dictates. There are deep and moody cuts such as “Ghana” and “No. 2,” faster, driving moments on “Manual Transmission” and even organ-painted, gothiclike moments on “Sil Lum Tao.”
Though there are sampled acoustic touches (a guitar on “Folding Space” and “The Inverted Man”) on the album, there are none of the real-life samples of Ollivierra’s previous work, allowing any casual listener to potentially file it into the ephemeral world of the headphone-sound track. Yes, the cityscape can be imagined in songs such as “Freeway,” and “City Lights.” But the audience is forced to work that much harder to hear Ollivierra’s serious observations within the synth-vamps, aquatic drum sequencing and daisy-chained beauty that he has created. It is a testament to Ollivierra’s work that this is such a pleasure.
Carleton S. Gholz writes about music for the Metro Times. E-Mail [email protected].