CFCF - Exercises [EP]
'Publish or perish' is a phrase which, much like academics, musicians are plagued by. Artists risk losing relevance if they don't keep themselves in their share of the limelight. And while we are still eagerly awaiting Mike Silver's (aka CFCF) follow up effort to 2009's undaunted electro-pop record, Continent, fans have been kept pacified by a slew of EPs, and April 24th (out in August through Dummy) saw the release of another one. Inspired largely by modernist architecture of the 1960s Silver's most recent release, Exercises, is a masterpiece of restraint. Released on Toronto's Paper Bag Records, this EP is laden with stately piano melodies informed by Ryuichi Sakamoto and judiciously applied synthesizers that convey a subtle touch of the cosmic; making it one of the most limpid recordings of this year.
Over the eight tracks, seven of which are instrumental, Silver carefully and lightly builds up piano compositions with occasional, unobtrusive drum tracks and synths that seep gently into the mix, creating mental landscapes that have always been the project's speciality.
Whether manifesting as the measured piano notes with smoky swirls of electronic ambience of 'Exercise #1 (Entry)' or the looping cadences of 'Exercise # 4 (Spirit)', which gets close to Sakamoto's hypnotic majesty, this collection of gorgeously ambient compositions marks a tectonic shift for the 24- year-old Montreal native. Whereas previously Silver was known for his drumbeats, Exercises mostly forgoes the old approach, letting concentric piano-based patterns of melody build on each other meditatively, decorated lightly by fuzzy glints of synth. Stripping away the flesh and blood that made up his previous tracks, this record leaves him to work with skeletons, revealing a much more natural side that creates an invitingly intimate sound.
The album's standout track is 'Exercise #3 (Buildings)', a whirlpool of tinkling piano and expansive synths that stir inevitable comparisons to Phillip Glass. And while Silver admits the legendary composer served as inspiration, his main muse was the '60s brutalist architecture that still permeates the Montreal landscape. Beautifully constructed, the song breathes of the end of winter and the beginning of a new spring; its upbeat tones speak of nostalgia for an idealism that no longer exists and an optimism of the coming future.
The most startling moment on the EP is when Silver's voice comes into the mix on 'Exercise #5 (September),' which in itself is nothing new (his voice popped up on a couple of tracks on Continent), but here it sounds that bit more assured, transforming the genteel piano ballad into billowing, understated synth-pop.
Exercises causes Synaesthesia (the union of senses), it evokes visually what is normally an entirely auditory experience, creating a sense of place, a landscape in the mind of the listener. While not the full-length follow up to CFCF's surprisingly confident 2009 debut, it is a much welcomed addition to the body of work that will be distilled into what fans hope will be a stunning second LP. By throwing his hat into the classical arena and stretching into kosmische-informed keyboard selections, Silver has opened himself up to a new world of possibilities.
Purchase and listen
I've been back and forth over this album; that much is certain. I've listened to Outside by CFCF (also known as Montreal musician Mike Silver) a good number of times in various locations doing various things, and I've had various thoughts: it's boring, it's interesting, it's a great chillout record, it's just a great record full stop, it's actually a bit terrible. I even made the mistake of suggesting on Twitter it had finally clicked with me and it was ace... and then I changed my mind again. [read more]
Following last year's stark change of direction with Exercises, it was never going to be simple to predict what CFCF's (Michael Silver) next EP might hold. The fact that it would be ambitiously driven by concept, paying no attention whatsoever to the precursors of the music industry, was not so much of a surprise. As it turns out, Silver has continued his journey towards being primarily received as a 'composer' with new release, Music for Objects. [read more]