Strategy – Future Rock (Kranky)
review by Alex Ruder
I’m no cook. My talents in the kitchen were minimal from the beginning, and proficiency certainly has not come with the passing years. But one day after school, at the ripe and naive age of 9 or 10, I decided to create homemade burritos out of a variety of ingredients that I had always enjoyed on their own. While I don’t recall the specific combination that made the cut on the first occasion, I imagine grapes, chocolate syrup, crushed-up chips, marshmallows, and possibly some strawberry yogurt were thrown into the mix. It was a mess visually and theoretically, but upon biting into this entirely unique burrito, I was surprised by the fact that it was not only edible, but miraculously delicious. My second attempt at homemade burritos that day did not prove as successful (mustard and cereal do not mix), but I’ve always been amazed at that first burrito’s ability to combine disparate tastes into a satisfying whole.
Future Rock, the third album from Strategy aka Portland-based multi-instrumentalist Paul Dickow, reminds me a whole lot of that burrito.
To move past food for the moment, the title to Strategy’s latest masterpiece is partially deceiving. It’s undeniably forward-thinking music; yet it’s far from the traditional notion of rock music. Guitars, drums, and vocals can all be found on the record, but Strategy’s vision of Future Rock is much more ambitious, tackling a world where seemingly dichotomous elements coexist in beautiful harmony.
Album opener “Can’t Roll Back” provides an ample indicator of Strategy’s unique sonic fusion. Kicking off with welcoming waves of dubby ambience, a subtle guitar lick, and hazy vocoder vocals, the track soon bursts into a soothing instrumental rhythm that implements elements of house, downtempo, and funk for seductive, psychedelic results. “Future Rock” and “Running on Empty,” the two following tracks, follow a similar template, with the title track pulsating to a squiggly bassline and the latter sneaking in a subtle groove within a mist of morphing ambience. Even though each of these tracks reside around the eight-minute mark, the lengthy duration feels effortless and breezy, consequently demanding repeat listens to decipher Dickow’s simultaneously complex and soothing layering abilities.
And therein lies the ultimate beauty of Future Rock: an undeniable knack at mixing various instruments, rhythms, and genres into an overall fusion that is far more simple than the sum of its individual ingredients.