If recent breakouts by Mylo and Vitalic have proven that there's still life left in house music and upbeat electronica (and they have), Idol Tryouts proves that there's also life beyond it. This double-disc set, compiled by the soothsayers at the edgy Ann Arbor label Ghostly International, is split into two loosely associated categories. Disc one, Avant-Pop, is self-explanatory; while you're certainly not gonna hear the ethereal glitch-soul of Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys or murky machine-noise grind of Kill Memory Crash sitting politely next to anything in the Top 40, most of these songs are still hook-driven, or at least deliciously sharp and pointy. Where Ann Arbor's Dabrye slouches toward trip-hop Bethlehem, Massachusetts' Mobius Band dreams in watercolors, and Taiwanese-American Daniel Wang ascends into heavenly dancefloor electro-funk. Intriguing and almost dangerously accessible (seriously -- Grandma dug this disc, but she's pretty hip), Avant-Pop is a punchy, pungent aperitif for the heady abstractions on disc two.
Dubbed SMM and left undefined, the second half of Tryouts is a sleeper, literally. To the impatient ear, ambient music can sound unfinished, or at least un-fun and meandering. And thrown into relief by the obvious, beat-driven thrill of disc one, this downtempo follow-up is certainly far more subjective. And occasionally, like a drowsy sunrise, it's also downright beautiful. Whether the submersed digital gamelan of Deru's "Straight Speak" or the faded textures and haunted vocals of Sybarite's "Sanctuary" perk you or Percocet you depends on what kind of listening you do. But there's intrigue here too. SMM -- and Ghostly in general -- just wants you to pay attention.
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