KRANK 109: Andrew Pekler: Cue (2007)
Circa 2004, there is a discernible shift in the Kranky roster from duos and groups to solo artists (touched on in this 2009 interview between Pitchfork’s Marc Masters and Kranky head Joel Leoshke). A few of those solo artists’ careers developed via Kranky—numerous albums by Tim Hecker and Keith Fullerton Whitman, for instance. But a quick scan of Kranky’s catalog, especially around 2005 to 2007, shows a fairly long list of artists who jumped ship to another label after one or two releases, or have simply not been very prolific, or altogether evaporated after one album. It can be hard to keep track of them all: Greg Davis, Gregg Kowalsky, Chris Herbert, Christopher Bissonnette, Chihei Hatekeyama—to name but a few. What’s more, a lot of those artists made very similar sounding minimalist ambient albums.
Andrew Pekler fits that mold in the first instance, in that Cue is his only album released through Kranky (he does have a bigger discography, in which Cue falls squarely in the middle; most recently he released Holiday for Sampler on the Planam label last year). But he doesn’t fit in the second instance. That is, don’t lump him in with the ambient artists: Cue is far more surprising than that.
It begins with “On,” setting the tone for the album with a pounding rhythm that recalls Faust’s “It’s a Rainy Day Sunshine Girl.” Throughout Cue Pekler uses kit drums (mostly toms) underneath his electronics, which keeps the tracks from feeling hermetic. Elsewhere elements of Cue call to mind other krautrock legends like Harmonia or Cluster—the excellent “Rockslide,” for instance, is a warped, bobbing vintage synth reminiscent of Harmonia’s “Watussi.” Pekler is not so derivative as that might seem; rather, he seems to be a 2007 descendent of these krautrock forefathers. Like those acts Pekler manages to blend systematic electronica with a loose, organic rhythm.
Systematic: most tracks here are built around a single motif which Pekler then builds (as in the excellent “Rockslide”) or allows to stew (as in “Steady State”). I don’t usually find artist or album PR sheets terribly helpful but the one for Cue, written by Pekler himself, gives good insight into his process for the record. The album is inspired by Library Music—tracks created for their utility in video and film, their makers content to be anonymous. It’s the polar opposite of the idealized notion of the artist as auteur. As Pekler explains,
On the other hand, this apparent anonymity and subordination to quasi-utilitarian determinants does have its own liberating potential. Freed of the obligations of personal expression, one can simply work with the material at hand, concentrating on discrete aesthetic objectives without being unduly concerned for the overall “meaning” of the work. To paraphrase John Cage, the artist is free to have nothing to say and to say it.
For Cue Pekler started with track titles and tried to make music evocative of those descriptions—”Pensive Boogie,” “Floating Tone,” “Dim Star,” etc. It’s not as utilitarian as Library Music but is rather a more poetic take on the form Pekler also puts his name prominently on the record, so anonymity is not part of the game here—artistry is still at the forefront. He states that in some cases the music evolved in such a way that he would retroactively change some of the song titles, so it’s clear that concept does not trump content here.
In any case: Cue is absolutely terrific. For me it’s probably among the greatest pleasant surprises I’ve encountered on this project, and (so far) just might be the most underrated release on the entire Kranky catalog.