Estonian electronic artist Out-Or has released his latest album, Structures, digitally, on CD and, true to his authentic 90s sound, on cassette, taking reviewer Ago Väli back to his own days of recording songs played on the radio, including one by Out-Or himself, onto cassettes.
In the 1990s, I recorded a lot of music onto cassette tapes off the radio. One of the troublesome special features of recording off the radio is that the songs do not usually play from beginning to end, because the radio DJ introduces and outroduces the track. However, tape is not to be wasted, and therefore the recording button is usually pushed down as soon as the DJ starts talking. That's why my cassettes oftentimes included one introductory sentence at the beginning and one at the end of the song. On one of the tapes that was recorded in 1995 from Raadio 2 show Vibratsioon, there is a half-sentence at the end of one track: "This is Out-Or, a man even a guy like Aphex Twin is curious about..."
Almost 20 years later, Out-Or is back on tape. But this time it is not recorded off the radio, but rather officially released by the label Lejal Globe. All the tracks can be listened to from beginning to end without being interrupted by a talking DJ. The album is titled Structures. In addition to cassette format, the album was also released on CD and in digital format. I have repeatedly listened to this material and have thought right from the start that this is just the perfect work for releasing in cassette format. Apparently the author himself also thinks that his music is just the right thing for tape as it is far from first time Out-Or has released a cassette.
The material that Out-Or has now released also sounds as though it were created in the golden age of cassettes, in the first half of the 90s. To be honest, I have listened to all of the tracks only in digital format thus far, but even in digital format, the music sounds like listening to a cassette, and not because of the rustle. There's just this nice, pleasant sound. It can't be helped — you can be open to everything new and listen to all different styles, but human beings are built in such a way that the sounds heard in one's youth remain the most beloved, and I am used to such a slightly filtered cassette sound.
I am really glad that for some time now, it isn't shameful to make music that sounds old-fashioned. Electronic dance music has existed for so long that the children of those people who once danced to this music have already grown up. And for this new generation, the old sound is not old. Or even if it is, then it's old and interesting.
Clothing trends come and go within a few months. At the same time, fortunately, there are some things — jeans or jackets, for example — that have a longer life span than one season. Out-Or is a tailor who sews aural jackets. And he uses the same fabric that was used for making clothes 20 years ago. This is not an imitation of the old school made by young people; this is music that sounds like it used to be because it is made like the music was made in the old days — with the same instruments that were used at the time, and by a man who didn't have to watch Youtube videos on how to make 90s techno. He knows because he was among the first ones who started producing anything like it in Estonia.
Out-Or also cannot be blamed for being stuck in some era or not being able to do anything more modern. His musical spectrum has been very broad throughout the years, and in a number periods he has released quite modern music. Structures just brings together tracks that sound like something from the times when the author was young.
Stylistically, the new album is not very even. It includes technical minimal techno, mellow and deep electronics with fewer drums, and IDM, rhythmic dance music, something pretty ambient, acid house, and more. In short, it's a real treat for open-eared people. And all the tracks are very well produced. Although it seems as though this is a collection of Out-Or's recent tracks rather than a conceptual album, I find this approach very likeable.
I recently listened to the latest album of Mr. Fingers (Larry Heard). Out-Or's career length is almost the same. Mr. Fingers' album was also full of different styles — a summary of everything that Mr Heard has produced throughout the decades. But his album sounded dull because I had repeatedly heard all those tricks before, on his earlier albums. Somehow, Structures sounds very fresh and interesting to me. Perhaps it is just that, unlike with Larry Heard, I have not consistently followed the doings of Out-Or or listened to his albums so many times.
One thing is for sure — Out-Or is a very unique artist at the Estonian level. Always has been. He's making music that very few are making here. However, while I was listening to the album, several parallels with foreign artists came to mind. Unfortunately, I don't know what was up with the mentioning of Aphex Twin on my cassette, but there are similarities with Aphex in some tracks ("Eeprom," "Dertwas," "Dunel"). "Skaala 2000" and "Csale 2 (Edit A)" remind me of LFO's work. And there is also a resemblance with one of our local Estonian artists — "Csale 2 (Edit B)" uses the same or a similar rhythm machine to that used at some point by Ajukaja on almost every track, which makes it feel like it was a Raul Saaremets production. Apparently, similarities with the other artists also arise from the same instruments or sounds being used.
All in all, this is an album that I definitely recommend buying. Being very picky, I rarely find the albums that I would like to listen to several times from beginning to end — I cannot find them anywhere in the entire world, let alone in Estonia. Structures is finally one such album, where almost every piece of music is a favourite.
This post originally appeared on the Culture critics' blog at culture.ee.
Editor: Aili Vahtla