Treehouse – Past Athena Court

Artwork by Samya Arif

It’s hard to tie together disparate musical movements or motifs without resorting to a kitchen-sink approach. In contemporary electronic music, as a result, it’s often a thankless task finding a release that isn’t considerably incongruous. Even homogeneity at times veers far too much towards blandness – sounds and ideas start to merge into one single blob of disaffection, rendering any intended intricacies completely irrelevant.

Treehouse’s (which consists of SAE London students Bilal Nasir Khan and Danish Lochner) Past Athena Court, however, seems to be a much vaunted exercise in taking on multiple influences and approaches, all the while maintaining some semblance of a broader goal that marries those influences and sounds towards a greater narrative. The EP’s greatest strength is undoubtedly its eclecticism, as it veers at any given point from Boards of Canada to the LA beat scene to the subversive two-step shuffle of London’s greatest garage exports.

As opener Used To Be A Time’s flashback harp laden intro moves beyond its irony, it’s hard to decipher where exactly Past Athena Court is going to lead the listener too. The track’s languid pace and piercing snare are offset by a stringed melodic refrain and twirling synth arpeggios, building a world of beautiful contradictions. Beat for Me and Dan follows a similar idea, if in a slightly different manner, with its Mount Kimbie-esque kick drums and effortless use of white noise dumped halfway through the track for a maximalist explosion of razor sharp synths and lurching drums.

Interestingly, on EP 16230, both Khan and Lochner take a step back from their controllers, drum machines and laptops. A tempered guitar riff becomes the centre piece around which the song pieces itself together, as cascading cymbals blanket the song in strange warmth. It is, essentially, a pop song hoping to deceptively sneak just under the radar. Along with Technicolour Jellybeans – which sounds like a relaxed Andrew Bird tinkering with the idea of going electronic -, EP 16230 has Khan and Lochner flirting with organic approaches to electronic music.

Perhaps the greatest statement of what Treehouse is capable of comes by way of Our House. It’s an absolute tour-de-force not only of production and composition, but also of electronic music’s ability to retain an emotional core amidst all of its (de)mystifying technological babble. Over the course of its three and a half minute run, Our House switches from rolling pads and snare heavy two step patterns to an exquisite and devastating momentary disintegration as the percussion gives way to wistful synths that completely uproot the mood of the track. It’s a startling turn and a brilliant display of the two young producers’ ability to manipulate moods and dynamics.

A truly compelling element of the Past Athena Court is its percussive work. Even at their most transparent, they’re still unsettled and roving. On Karhai Times, the IDM influence shines through but the drums manage to keep their strong sense of movement – never resting for a second while the vocals float and glide past.

Despite the fact that both Khan (who records under the moniker Rudoh) and Lochner are also pursuing their own sounds, Past Athena Court never sounds like two (or more) entities are deliberately contravening each other. In that, the release always makes sense, rather than showing up conspicuous fissures. To an extent, it does seem like Khan and Lochner are still finding their feet and coming to terms with what might be ‘their’ sound. Rather than Past Athena Court sounding like a mishmash of ill-conceived ideas though, Treehouse’s approach to writing and music comes off as innately genuine.

It’s something that’s not often found in electronic music these days – partly because of the genre’s inherent need to scrutinize every aspect of itself, and partly I suppose, because of the very exigent need to sound unique. Khan and Lochner seemed to have decided to do away with such preoccupations, and focus instead on just writing music. The eclecticism on display on Past Athena Court, consequently, isn’t meandering nor is it stumblingly derivative. What it is, however, is a celebration of influences and a very persistent desire to make brilliant and honest music.

written by Asfandyar Khan

NEWS - 14. June 2013   CITY - Karachi ARTIST - Treehouse

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