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Album Review: Boy Eats Drum Machine, "Hoop + Wire"

Album Review: Boy Eats Drum Machine, "Hoop + Wire"


 It’s been two years since we last heard from Jon Ragel, but boy was it worth the wait. The multi-instrumentalist’s one-man band, Boy Eats Drum Machine, released its fifth album (second via Portland-based record label, Tender Loving Empire) earlier this month, and it very well may be Ragel’s best to date.

Hoop + Wire encompasses the avant-garde, hip-pop staggering that sets BEDM apart from his Portland electro-pop counterparts, but this release is a bit more accessible than the rest. The first, and title, track begins with a catchy guitar riff atop tinny drum machine beats that seamlessly mesh into electronic blips with Ragel’s breathy vocals soaring over the music. And whereas most of BEDM’s tunes possess a poppy air, they tend to have too much going on to make them traditionally danceable, but “Hoop + Wire,” is a hard song not to dance to.

The third song, “ABQ,” illustrates Ragel’s hip-hop influence, as well as his talent on the turntable. The track is a 2:20 minute-long sample mash-up of crunchy drums, pounding synths, and opera-like vocals that the turntable-ist somehow manages to spin into a smooth, coherent tune. The track flows effortlessly into “Syncopated,” which features yet another of Ragel’s musical talents, the baritone sax.

The album takes a turn back to BEDM’s abstract, experimental art-pop with “Gold in the Hills,” a jumbled mixture of surf-rock guitar riffs, fluttering keys, saxophones, and manipulated vocal samples. Ragel’s voice makes its first appearance halfway through the song and adds a layer of darkness to the track with its deeply sung, minor key.

The album continues as a series of emotional and musical ups and downs, but each song shares a theme—the thoughts, feelings and experiences of a road trip. Ragel dreamed up this album on a cross-country drive.

With this in mind, it only makes sense the album ends with a track entitled, “70 Miles an Hour.” This song is more fluid and lucid than its predecessors, with beautiful flowing keyboard blips in the vain of The Postal Service, and Ragel pleading, “Look out, the hills you see, I’m only on the other side, will you be faithful to me?” The answer is yes, Jon, as long as you continue releasing albums like this.

-Katrina Nattress

Published: March 19, 2010 |

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