Altered Gee dig the past and turn up treasure

Golden beats
By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  February 13, 2013

The experience of modern music is synonymous with nostalgia. Whether personal or cultural, it helps to augment or contextualize the ideas of an artist, which can align them with, or distinguish them from, others working with similar themes. If successful, this might trace a unique three-dimensional relationship between artist, listener, and epoch. If otherwise, it registers as a sort of vague and shticky aesthetic gesture, often toward a social milieu the musicians have merely read about.

Count the new work by Portland instrumental funk duo Altered Gee among the former. Created with an armory of vintage analog instruments, a deep repository of musical appreciation, and an airtight aesthetic derived convincingly from actual experience, Rise From Yr Grave is an ecstatically original document of noisy, spirited, beat-driven, retrofuturist electronic music, so specific and consistent in its nods backward that listeners have no choice but to observe that its nostalgia has significance.

The group's touchstone reference point, of course, is the 16-bit Sega game Altered Beast, a sort of Double Dragon set in the mythical landscape of ancient Greece. Yet it would hardly seem noteworthy if Altered Gee simply made video game music. The mass domestication of gaming consoles in the late '80s and early '90s created conditions whereby a generation of young people (generally male) became uniquely well acquainted with music — often alternative or hip hop or indie — in the confines of their bedrooms, quite possibly with a few power-ups of their own. There was no Internet (at the very least, it was dial-up), so exposure to art and entertainment required a greater investment and deeper listening that seem wholly quaint now. Nearly everything about the music of Altered Gee invokes these conditions. And whether you played ToeJam and Earl to Daydream Nation or Altered Beast to The Chronic, the principle is the same.

It's possible to view all of the formal musical insights of Rise From Yr Grave — and there are plenty — through this grainy, 16-bit lens. Indeed, it's quite like these two dudes — who have been known as Slouch and Kee Jr. Dee Jay and credited here as Roach Dad and Young Prince — are playing a constructivist hip hop version of some two-player cooperative shoot 'em up. On "Young Guns Who Hate Holsters," Roach Dad hammers out a hopscotch-y beat on a SP-1200 drum machine as Young Prince kicks out some wailing, G-funk-style sirens on the Siel organ (both instruments, notably, made in the '80s). In addition to the warm feel of the analog sounds, there's a distinctly human pulse propelling each track, from the expressively fat-bottomed Moog basslines in "Gawdz Hands" to the chirpy and lurchingly imperfect synth bars of "Dukes of Stagger."

The LP's second half takes on a more ruminative quality, letting go of the wire-tight beats in favor of roomier, more expansive jams. On "Gold Chain," the only track that might conceivably anchor a vocal, a particularly swaggering beat is besieged by minimalist synth lines, which betray a melodicism that might have been forged by early aughties IDM. The serene "Slipper the Finger" leads a straight piano line into an expansive, meandering synth wash, and "Lost Hit," a track that seems to defy perfect execution, ends the record on purely psychedelic terms.

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  Topics: Music Features , Music, Hip Hop, Altered Gee
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