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Friday, February 24, 2023

Tyondai Braxton - Telekinesis (Self-Released, 2022)

By Ian Lovdahl

People will certainly argue this, but besides the incomparable Kali Malone, I don't think there's a more exciting contemporary composer than Tyondai Braxton. Perhaps overshadowed by his legendary father Anthony's massive body of work, the younger Braxton's oeuvre features decidedly fewer altos, instead exploring an amalgam of organic and synthetic sounds. Many of us were introduced to Tyondai in the nascent days of the math rock band Battles' career, trying to make sense of his pitch-warped vocals on 2007's highly-acclaimed album Mirrored

The sky seemed like the only limit for the experimental quartet, but the composer had a grander vision, departing Battles and focusing on constructing his opus, the 2009 electroacoustic chamber masterpiece Central Market. Inspired by Stravinsky and the prior year's housing crisis, Tyondai translates his imagination into twisting, zany soundscapes with the vital help of New York's Wordless Music Orchestra. As a big fan of Frank Zappa's unique contributions to 20th century classical, I connected with Central Market's grandiose style and tongue-in-cheek virtuosity and now consider it a modern classic. Braxton has released further experimentations in the interim, but the announcement of Telekinesis, a commissioned 87-piece work inspired by the science fiction anime and manga Akira, became my most anticipated album of 2022. I was expecting Central Market 2.0, but after dozens of plays digitally and on vinyl, I can safely say that this new work is something entirely different.

Like the opening minutes of the album's anime inspiration, Telekinesis unfolds with tension from the start. Shoulder-clenching strings give way to descending synthesizers, undercut by an advancing tuba and woodpecker percussion; similarly, the second track "TK2_Wavefolder" follows suit, albeit more frantic and curious. Throughout Central Market, there exists a palpable sense of silliness that bounces freely between the bright strings and xylophones; it's music with a spring in its step. 

Telekinesis, in comparison, shows restraint. Case in point: electric guitars are ubiquitous in the piece, but the subtle manner in which they're played blends perfectly with the quiet tumult of the performance; it calls to mind Glenn Branca's six-string totalism, although more subdued and mechanical. Hitchcockian synths mingle with both bowed and plucked strings, wading through an ever-present current of choral voices, as provided by The Crossing and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The electroacoustic action ebbs and flows, clashing with operatic drama one moment before crocheting a finely-textured silence with Braxton's ominous electronics. 

Each of the four movements have their own sonic character: mature opener "TK1_Overshare" sets the stage for the chaotically playful "TK2_Wavefolder", and the ghastly "TK3_FloatingLake" disavows levity with its cold haunting choirs and walls of strings. A heroic "TK4_Overgrowth" bookends Telekinesis, slowly building with pumping brass and returning to motifs established in the first movement with tremolo guitar and chirping violin. Then, before you know it, most of the 87-piece band vanishes, leaving behind only whirring electronics and a single piece of percussion, clicking three times before expiring into the dimensionless void.

Even after numerous playthroughs, I'm still finding new aspects to appreciate about my vinyl copy of Telekinesis. For instance, while preparing this review, I heard very softly roaring motorcycle engines on "TK1_Overshare", a brief homage to the record's inspiration that made me grin. Not to call Braxton's earlier work juvenile by any means, but Telekinesis, to my ears, is his most mature composition; more so than Central Market, this sci-fi excursion requires careful listening and a handful of patience to squeeze out every specific detail. The eighty-seven players at work crafted a tremendous sonic adventure that chases the duality of organic lifeblood and chilled artifice, and even if Braxton's next project isn't as ambitious, I sincerely look forward to hearing more.

Listen and download from Bandcamp