Just in from the electronica department: Tate Hall’s debut full-length Twisted Trees is a funky, self-guided audio tour through electro sounds both old and new, smartly produced and decidedly restrained in some key areas, just off-centered enough to avoid the pitfalls of fad and just idiosyncratic enough to escape criticisms related to the album’s obvious affinity for the past. With composer/engineer/producer Tate Hall at the helm, Twisted Trees’ hour of runtime is an interesting, nuanced, and yes, often danceable listen, though one of the appeals of Twisted Trees in general is its propensity to eschew the obvious in favor of sounds reminiscent of those from deeper in the LP bin. Though not likely to win over many converts on the blanched and sanitized “see and be seen” radio-ready club set, Twisted Trees is likely to appeal to fans of quirky and throwback sounds alike.
Twisted Trees shoots for the cinematic, with a flair for a somewhat aged trance/techno style that falls halfway between deep early 90’s club trance and the tracks and tracers of bygone acid house rootstock. One listen to retro-tinged warehouse cuts such as “Choose Your Adventure”, “Heart Full of Holes”, “Tropic”, or “Artificial Life” is enough to convince the listener that Hall has either been around for a minute or else has deeply imbibed the past and is using it to crowbar open new possibilities in the present.
According to Hall’s website, Twisted Trees is apparently meant to be listened to from end to end (well, one would suppose most musicians’ records are to a certain degree), and what Hall is seemingly leaning towards here is a type of inclusive, all access pass into a larger artistic vision, an unbroken spell of sound that weaves its way between the dance floor contours of Twisted Trees’ dated yet less-than-kitschy sight lines. Which works, for the most part, with a few unexpected turns here and there, such as the emoticon piano line and backing strings of “Artificial Life” and album opener “Renewed Rebellion”, the stark spaghetti western guitar flourishes of “Bamboo Forest”, the metal-lite breakdown on “Color of the Dark”, and the completely unexpected Jamaican Gold airdrop into a light and fluffy reggae beach party on album closer “Shelf Existence” (which is, despite Hall’s affinity for and background with reggae, probably the biggest head-scratcher on the record). Though the effort is appreciated, it’s difficult to call whether or not these divergences actually pull energy away from the album’s finer points, which rest squarely on Hall’s ability to sequence some nifty retro beats, ala the triptych of “Ten Tubes”, “Tropic”, and “Artificial Life”.
Hall, a composer and trained sound engineer with a background in studio mixing and mastering (he currently runs a mixing and mastering service in Los Angeles, Seaborn Audio), uses his knob twiddling and studio wizardry to good effect on Twisted Trees. Tracks such as “Waking the Unconscious”, “Night of Delays”, and “Bamboo Forest” reach for something personalized, while others such as “Tropic” and “Ten Tubes” are sound renditions of a bygone 3 AM warehouse party snapshot in time. Overall, the record listens well and is enjoyable overall. Still, though colorful and expressive in its scope, it would nevertheless be difficult to label Twisted Trees as truly “fresh” or “new” in aesthetic terms, given the near constant stylistic backward glances that pepper the richer parts of the album. Though there are a few unexpected surprises here and there, the better half of Hall’s output here is in either its retro-futurity, or else the overall sound and quality of the recording, which is quite well hung together (as one might expect given the artist’s background).
That being said, one shouldn’t dwell too long on such matters, as Twisted Trees is overall a solid and expressive outing that manages to overcome its more discombobulated moments with some that truly shine, and hints at greater things to come from Tate Hall. Coming soon to a clubhouse near you.
Twisted Trees - LP
Review by: Reed Burnam