Though it’s a last minute submission, The Passenger‘s _| is a leading contender for most annoying and incomprehensible album title of the year. That said, the contents of the album are definitively anti-annoying, the pulsing, square-wave dominated tracks glitching out and falling apart right when they should be annoying. That impersonal title, though, summarizes best what one should expect to find here, a distant (yet still evocative) set of symbols.
The big, insistent tones of “Mr. Similar” open the track, and just as they get excessive, those tones turn into failing squiggles, darting around in empty air. Then, right before that starts to drift into repetition, a synth-clanky electronic beat wanders its way into the mix. For those that aren’t too interested in that kind of dance music, twinkling space sounds shift that into even another combination.
That same freewheeling, shape-shifting ethos is simultaneously the album’s heart and Achilles heel. When things stumble towards an interesting theme or sound (as on the stuttered, fading vocal sample at the beginning of “Planetarium”), it too readily drifts away to be replaced by something else. The slippery near-dissonance of “Rainy” is one of the few tracks that keeps its same set of sounds intact throughout, and it’s not surprisingly one of the less interesting tracks throughout.
The blend of twinkling, just-outside-of-lucid dance music and breezy atmosphere comes together in a mind-spinning collage of mix and match sounds that evoke some serious mental imagery. A swarm of bees bursts through the seams in the intro of “Shirt”, synths stabbing out at a million different moments in a giant mass. The small, warbling steps ringing out throughout “Wither” are like an ambulance stuck in the bottom of a river. These scenes drip and wilt like a bunch of failing Transformers, puddling into shapeshifting masses.
Essential Tracks: “Planetarium”, “Shirt”