When Evan Wood left Pittsburgh for New York, he also left his post in local electronic duo Discuss. But the other half of the equation, Andrés Ortiz-Ferrari, wasn't about to lose the ground he'd gained since their 2006 self-titled release -- or the name. With Jim Doutrich joining the group in late 2007, Discuss is back, both on the live front -- recently opening for Amon Tobin at CMU -- and on record, with Aeration Swells.
The new CD's cover, with its images of wheat stalks and old electronic equipment, is an apt metaphor for the mixture of electronic and manipulated organic sounds comprising its 13 tracks. Discuss' basic tonal palette is sweeping and contemplative keys, over which downtempo rhythms gradually accumulate, layer by layer, with bursts of guitar, trumpet, vocals and other sliced-up sounds. Doutrich's high vocals are generally processed and treated to the point that they're more a wash of color than they are -- you know, singing a song.
The new disc contains nods to past electronic trends: "Paco Ibanez, Andrés y Jim" drops a hyperactive beat over an epic lonesome atmosphere reminiscent of 1990s trip-hop, while "Just as in Plantlife, Citylife" feels like the breakdown in a latter-day Depeche Mode song, before the drums crescendo into a cathartic explosion. But you'll also find world-music flavors (the Gotan Project-esque accordion intro to "133 331") and elements of contemporary indie-pop on cuts like "The Elephant Migration."
In all, Aeration Swells is a collection of tracks that (for the most part) favor musicality and emotion over gee-whiz knob-twiddling, conveying intriguing sounds and rhythms with a welcome accessibility.