For years, techno culture ran counter to pop music. Instrumental, synthetic, and largely devoid of melody, electronica's output was anything but radio-ready. Recently, however, the artists on Germany's Morr Music label have embraced more tuneful dictates, adopting lyrics, live instruments, and verse/chorus structures. (The imprint went so far as to title a compilation Putting the Morr Back in Morrissey.) You're still unlikely to hear this stuff on the airwaves -- ironically, chart-toppers like Timbaland have routed popular tastes away from standard songwriting -- but that won't stop Morr's former minimalists from trying.
In only four years of operation, Morr has amassed a considerable catalog of releases, favored by indie and electronica fans alike. Part of the label's appeal is its unified aesthetic, combining crunching rhythms, spine-tinglingly rich textures, and the massive, buzzing harmonics of shoegazer bands like My Bloody Valentine. The three acts -- Lali Puna, Opiate, and Styrofoam -- on Morr's first North American tour fit the bill nicely, even as they display considerable range.
Styrofoam, aka Arne Van Petegem, has recorded two albums for Morr. His feathery hip hop beats and mopey melodies recall Boards of Canada's emotional electronics, but the deliberately childlike overtones of his songs, like the tinklings of a music box, seem tailor-made for Morr's pop sensibilities. Opiate -- aka Thomas Knak -- is best known as one of Björk's collaborators on last year's Vespertine, but his résumé also includes solo releases for Morr and the like-minded City Centre Offices imprint, the management of the dubby Hobby Industries label, and a role in the cinematic trio Future 3. Knak's music is even more emotionally unhinged than Styrofoam's; where the latter polishes sadness to a bittersweet glow, Opiate's despair is tinged with alienation, and his reverb-laden beats seem cushioned in detachment. Morr's best-known recording artist, Lali Puna, is also its most emotive: The outfit's shuffling beats and quavering harmonies recall the moody details of member Markus Acher's band the Notwist, while singer Valerie Trebeljahr centers every song with her smooth, liquid vocals.
For this show, the three acts will both DJ and perform, suggesting that Morr's artists hope to carve out a middle ground between rock, ambient, and disco. In the process, the label just gets more interesting, putting the Morr back in Ennio Morricone and Giorgio Moroder, as well as the Mozzer.
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