It was just about half a year ago that I first ran across the name Casino Versus Japan while scanning over the Carpark web site to scope out future releases. Doing a bit of research, I found out that it was the alias for one Erik Kowalski, and that he'd released a couple albums previously on other smaller labels. Two days after I read that, I stumbled upon his first, self-titled release in the markdown bin of a local store, and felt like it was some sort of sign. In fact, the album was over 70 minutes of drifting dreamscapes of sound, punctuated by the usual beat and random whatnot. It had lots of interesting textures, but simply went on for too long for me to really get into it.
Carpark is one of those smaller labels that has built up a super-consistent release base in my mind, so even after I'd read scattered reviews of Casino Versus Japan's second disc Go Hawaii, I leapt at the chance to pick up Whole Numbers Play The Basics, and for the most part it's an enjoyable trip. The most prominent difference between this release and the first one that I heard from the group is a much more highly developed sense of programming and beat structures. While most tracks still rely on heavily layered, lush sound sources, there's much more of a propelling agent on the release, which is something lacking on the first release that tended to make it lapse a bit.
Opening with a gorgeous swell of layered, fluttering synth textures on "Single Variation Of Two," eventually a distorted, chunky-as-hell beat drops and gives the track a nice dynamic, mixing the warm, soaring sounds with luggy low-end. Those who found the new Boards Of Canada album (Geogaddi) a bit too dark for their tastes may find themselves squealing with glee upon hearing it. While much of the album is put together with variations on the same premise (multiple layers of lush synths swirling around catchy beats), it's a combination that surprisingly doesn't really wear out its welcome.
Part of that can be attributed to Kowalski's ability to create melodies that stick in your ear despite their exterior simplicity (or is it the most simple melodies that do that anyway?). The crux of "Em Essey" is essentially nothing more than a walk up and down the scale by an old school synth sound while a click hop beat patters along behind it while "Summer Clip" juxtaposes a skronky keyboard melody with a lush wash of sound and some more of those chunky beats. Towards the end of the album (particularly on the last couple tracks), the album drifts a bit more into the lush dronescapes (although the beats and lighter melodies still creep through occassionally), and on the closing "Sio Bid Bellwave," the distorted beat takes the majority of the track just to barely pound through the thick haze. In the end, there isn't anything on the release that hasn't been done before, but it's enjoyable nonetheless. Touching on everything from early Warp Records releases like B12 and Black Dog to current artists like the aforementioned Boards Of Canada, it's playful without being bubblegum, and introspective without being too dark.