Indie electronica quartet the Octopus Project have been around since 1999, but their star’s been pretty steadily on the rise since their ’04-released sophomore album, One Ten Hundred Thousand Million. In 2006 they were unwittingly voted into an open slot at Coachella by fans on Myspace, an honor that impeccably fits these children of our synthesized age. Several albums, a handful of EPs and a collaboration with Black Moth Super Rainbow later, the Octopi played the Echoplex last week, and they dropped their fourth effort, Hexadecagon, today to no small amount of buzz.
Hexadecagon is the soundtrack to what basically amounts to an elaborate piece of performance art, performed twice at SXSW this year. Seeking to seamlessly merge video and audio experiences, the band set up eight speakers surrounding the audience and projected video onto eight huge screens above the stage, creating the sixteen-sided object of the album’s title. It’s a pretty brilliant idea that must have been one of the most powerfully communal and unifying performances experienced by attendees of the festival. Seven months later the album’s been reproduced in a solely auditory format, though fortunately it maintains most of what must have been the overwhelming sense of super-stimulation and absorption afforded by the original multi-sensory version. Its 48 minutes comprise eight songs sweeping a varied landscape of aural textures but very much fitting into one complete whole, their interwoven themes making the album more fulfilling when listened to as a whole rather than track-by-track.
“Fuguefat” kicks off the album with a jangling piano riff that builds in layers and catchiness, leading into the slower, synth-y soothing-ness of “Korakrit” and droning “Phantasy”. Fourth track “Circling” is an album standout and one of the most suitable for solo listening. At nearly 11 minutes, it’s an epic, building over dozens of layered piano loops to a heady climax before a humming, quasi-mournful denouement. Though a gem of atmospheric, woeful beauty, “Toneloop” and more upbeat follower “Glass Jungle” are easily outshined by the brackets formed by “Circling” and wry, pulsing, glittering “Hallucinists”. Album closer “Catalog” builds to a chaotic frenzy of blazing sound before buzzing out on a milder note.
Overall, Hexadecagon makes for a satisfying listen, and fans of the band and ambient/electro music in particular will enjoy the complexity and craftsmanship of the album. One just has to imagine that it loses a little in the transition from full-body experience to one processed solely through speakers, but “Circling” and “Hallucinists” especially do much to mitigate that loss.
Reviewed by Julia Ringo