In just over three years, Chicago musician Joel Ebner has quietly built a body of work rivaling artists who've been producing since the turn of the century. Starting in 2014, he's released five records under four different names—City States, Contretemps, Modal Voices, and Avvenir—offering unique takes on art-pop, noise, minimalism, and techno. Heard separately, the projects offer self-assured reinterpretations of conventional sub-genres, each demonstrating nuanced understandings of style, texture, arrangement, and mood.
"A fresh look at experimental techno." –Ravedeaf
When taken together, however, they show an artist with a desire to build out an expanding universe of his own creation. Taking cues from the likes of Jim O'Rourke, Brian Eno, Charles & Ray Eames, and Steven Soderbergh (polymaths who have produced a lot of art, and who have done so in a variety of mediums) Ebner—after spending seven years focusing exclusively on City States—decided to start exploring the varieties of instrumental music he grew up obsessing over. At first blush, the turn isn't so different from countless indie-rock frontmen who venture out with a timely synth-pop side-project. Tune in more finely, and you'll hear someone who's skills have caught up to his taste and ambition, a person whose 20-year commitment to listening has transformed, suddenly, into a full-throttle enthusiasm for making.
Comms will be Ebner's sixth album overall and third under the Avvenir moniker, following two LPs that have already garnered high praise from Popmatters, Impose, and CMJ. By far the most immediate Avvenir work to-date, Comms strips away the orchestral flourishes and stylistic range that made Natural Language, in the words of the Beach Sloth music blog, "a beautiful, baroque take on techno." Instead, over the course of its 44-minute runtime Comms' oscillates between industrial breakbeats and icy soundscapes, resulting in a tone that reads more claustrophobic than reflective. Hints of acid and Detroit techno shine through in hard-hitting singles like "Guyton OS" and "To Text". Meanwhile, tracks like "PowerPoint" and "Gast" stretch these styles into more unusual territory á la Autechre's albums Untitled and Quaristice.
Starting around the same time as he began production on the first Avvenir LP, Ebner developed an obsession with contemporary art, which has only grown in the years since. The song titles of Comms reflect this, referencing pieces by Wade Guyton, Albert Oehlen, Julie Mehretu, Christopher Wool, Michael Riedel, and Corinne Wasmuht, whose work asks similar questions about how we communicate, and how our lives are shaped by the arrow of technological progress. That inspiration has motivated Ebner to start constructing his own large-scale mixed media pieces, too, another indication that Ebner's desire to create is restless and ever expanding, like a universe which increasingly makes room for new forms.