Molar: The Time and Motion Studies
Travis Johnson
3/23/2004 10:28:46 PM

Remember those cool, squid-like search drones from The Matrix? You know, the ones that required Morpheus and his crew to power down their ship to keep from being completely obliterated? If a few of the more aurally-inclined units were to get together and form band, it might sound something like Molar.

Molar is, in actuality, a trio of musicians from New York who use guitar, keyboards, and a laptop or two to produce futuristic soundscapes that are equally nightmarish and beautiful. While Molar’s debut The Time and Motion Studies [False Walls Records] could easily be carelessly lumped into a pile of generic, ambient electronica, closer listening reveals highly progressive approaches to sonic craftsmanship. The trio begins with live, improvisational sketches from which to build before reconstructing its results with radically experimental sound processing and loop techniques. The final results evoke a kind of twisted, half-human neurosis that might be the folk music of demented, plotting robots.

Molar’s vision comes into focus on the second track, “Regiment,” where the group does a marvelous job of erasing the lines drawn between the merits of digital and analog production (just in case you’re still keeping track). These are musicians and machines in tune with one another on a near-molecular level. The whole mess can often seem rather inverted, guitar notes banging and crashing while rhythmic throbs and pulses take on melodic qualities. Subtle increases in tempo flow naturally like the increasing rush of a river after rainfall. Sonically latent static hiss increases tension in the piece, grinding your teeth for you, and keeping you on the edge of your seat.

The alien “Lunar” follows, emphasizing unlikely rhythmic patterns and toying with the natural linear motion of music itself. This is music that travels, but at its own pace, making rest stops without obligation to any schedule.

It’s interesting to note the stark contrast existing between Molar’s mind-enveloping hums and roars versus the periods of silence employed with equal effectiveness. Track 5, “Pulse,” may be the best example of this. “Pulse” begins with the type of hypnotic rhythm you become aware of while driving with the windshield wipers on, or the “beats” you notice when your laundry is in its spin cycle. An enjoyable if nervous tension is built upon before a really nice loop is unearthed near the four-minute mark, reeling in meditative beauty from the tenser, abstract chaos.

Track 6, “Undertow,” rounds out the album’s midpoint peak and comes closer to more easily recognized music forms than anything previous to it. Here, there are hints of amphetamine-driven club pulse that steer slightly away from the math nerd explorations comprising the rest of the album. However, it wouldn’t be Molar to leave it there. Things take a dramatic turn in a movement of surprising beauty that sounds something like the wind-chime-on-your-grandmother’s-porch meeting Tortoise circa-1996. This treat may be album’s moment of utter grace and dignity.

“Chambers” provides a brief, fearful interlude, while “Flicker” plays hard on intricate little clicks, bleeps, boops, and whizzes, creating a busy model-esque picture of what sounds like a cityscape. This could be robot ragtime.

The closer, “Occident,” makes fine use of space—unpredictable, random space that expands and contracts—living space that breathes. The trio fills such emptiness with droning organ-like sounds, hazy static, and lapses of silence known only to lonely, drifting satellites.

The Time and Motion Studies leans toward the experimental, yes, and unless you like that sort of thing, you aren’t likely to engage in repeated spins of this CD. However, the group has mined some indisputably intriguing musical territory. They could probably put it into a shiny package with ribbons and bows and gain broader appeal—assuming Molar were to even desire such.

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