Exalted Headband

Kowtow Popof

Wampus, 2009


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Commuting is an activity I’ve always used as an opportunity to connect with music.  The character of the connections has been a little different ever since I started working in a different city from the one I live in, though, as my commute has varied between a two-minute walk and a three-hour drive, depending on the day of the week.

This morning, as it happens, I got up at 4:45 am and was on the road by 5:30 listening to Kowtow Popof’s Exalted Headband.  I’ve listened to plenty of instrumental music in my time, and reviewed plenty of it for the Vault, and the question I always ask myself about instrumental work is, what’s unique about this?  And what’s happened this morning is that I’ve had a great combination of a unique look and feel to the environment I’m observing and unique music matched to it -- and the match really works.  The landscape is dead landscape in the process of coming alive, flat freeway running straight through farmland, as quiet and still as you can imagine with the sun just starting to peek over the horizon to my left, bringing the land to life.  The sun hits the green and it lights up; lines of trucks doze on the shoulder of the exit ramps, preparing to rise and hit the road again soon.

The music that’s washing over this scene is rich, rather spooky and quietly expansive, with a lot of piano and acoustic guitar over an all-electronic rhythm section.  It’s an interesting meld of organic and airy electronic that often sounds a little otherworldly; it could form the soundtrack to a slightly surreal art film, especially cuts like “Swimming Downhill” and “Fractal Dust.”  The latter would logically roll under a dream sequence, gentle piano chords chiming away with softly looming synthesizer washes in the background.  Meanwhile I’m traveling a little too fast through this half-lit world that’s growing brighter mile by mile, the music the perfect soundtrack for my journey, encouraging a light trance, but with enough changes and energy in the faster songs to keep the neurons firing.  Tunes like “Kairos ‘77” might be intoxicatingly dreamy, but they won’t put you to sleep.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Looking back at the review I wrote of Popof’s End Of Greatness a couple of years back, I see I’ve experienced this dizzy feeling before.  As I said at the time, his vocal songs can be interesting listening, but the instrumentals were the best things on the album; there’s just something hypnotic and fascinating about the sounds that he puts together.  I do think a lot of it has to do with the juxtaposition and balance of acoustic and electronic; Popof chooses electronic sounds that have some life to them and don’t sound dead or robotic, and then adds the organic to give his music that extra light and spark. 

“Run To Daylight” has a nice electric guitar melody with acoustic rhythm guitar and repeating synth figures underneath.  There’s a lot of moving parts, but on one level, it doesn’t seem that compelling because it just repeats.  Ah, but then it varies and evolves and picks up some genuine drive, and then the electric guitar starts to spark and rotate and ascend away from the rest of the song, and what began as a mild, almost predictable principal melody at the beginning becomes the anchor holding this strange, swirling menagerie of sounds together. 

“Deep & Deeper” sounds like So-era Peter Gabriel at first.   There’s actually a little vocal track, but it’s a hypnotist putting someone under, which is perfect, because it’s exactly what the music sounds like.  Its slow, swirly washes of sounds are infused with elements you don’t expect: acoustic guitar strums break in suddenly, the organic intruding on the electric, garnished with snippets of an opera singer.  You can be forgiven for wanting to tighten your grip on whatever furniture you’re occupying while listening to this one.

The title track sounds like Popof might have borrowed the melody from a Moody Blues song, but I don’t know which one; it just has that slightly overblown strings-and-brass, “Nights In White Satin” feel.  “Theme From Lucky Guy” has more of a scary-movie feel to it, as if the title should really be “Theme From Lucky Guy Gets Eaten by Zombies.”  By the hypnotic fade of the synth-heavy “Rebreather,” I’m lost in the parallel dimension Popof seems to inhabit, and enjoying the ride.

I’ll be moving to the city I work in later this year and the commute will end.  Most of the time I'm sure I won’t miss it, but on mornings like this, sharing my ride with an album as intriguing and captivating and utterly unique as Exalted Headband, I wonder if I might.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2009 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Wampus, and is used for informational purposes only.