2013 was the year I discovered electronica. My little brother bears the weight of responsibility for my electro-conversion, mounting a two-pronged attack on my musical sensibilities. The first prong was Daft Punk and French House (more on that in another review), which took skillful advantage of my love of classic 70s R&B. The second prong was Savant (Norwegian EDM auteur Aleksander Vinter) and glitch-hop (a close cousin of dubstep), which in turn exploited a childhood spent listening to an endless loop of chiptunes as I played my way through The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. 3 and voraciously consumed every track posted on OverClocked ReMix.
While my video-gaming childhood may have prepared me aesthetically for Savant’s genre-bending EDM, it didn’t prepare me in terms of stylistic knowledge – I still find the myriad sub-genres, sub-sub-genres, and sub-sub-meta-genres within electronic music utterly baffling. (For neophytes like myself, Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music is a helpful reference tool.) I only know what I like; and I can tell you that I like Savant. A lot. Last year’s “Face Off” was my port of entry. But Vinter’s 2013 output, the full-length Cult and the EP Heart (I’ve not yet heard Overkill – Vinter releases new music faster than I can get my hands on it) are as good an introduction to his work as any. And since those records fit better with my recent “Albums of 2013” theme, I’ll review them both together.
Vinter’s stage name derives his savant syndrome, which is defined by Wikipedia as “a condition in which a person with a serious mental disability, such as an autism spectrum disorder, demonstrates profound and prodigious capacities or abilities far in excess of what would be considered normal.” The extreme attention to sonic detail and the utter wealth of invention on these two EPs certainly testifies to “abilities far in excess of what would be considered normal.”
The sounds employed on these records range widely, from Latin grooves on “Kali 47” (Cult) to sludgy reggae on “Wild Ganja” (Heart) to quasi-baroque strings and harpsichord transitioning into frantic chiptune on “Robin Hood” (Cult – the track calls to mind Castlevania). Vinter’s use of vocal samples is likewise inspired; for instance, the bizarre spoken vocals of “Can’t Touch This” (Cult) only obliquely references MC Hammer’s ubiquitous hit, as a teenage girl rants about her little brother, or the eerie interjection “It is natural to die” on “Heart” (Heart). The two constants that hold across all these stylistic shifts are 1) the “malfunctioning-fax-machine” (to quote my brother) fills that give glitch-hop its name and 2) a heavy emphasis on melody. There’s nothing that goes straight to this classic gamer’s heart like soaring, interlocking synth leads.
The only criticism I might level at Savant is that, with his feverish release schedule (he released four full-length albums last year, including the mammoth Alchemist, and three this year, not to speak of EPs and one-off collaborations) and seemingly bottomless stores of creativity, he sometimes doesn’t develop musical ideas as fully as they deserve. My favorite moment in Heart‘s title cut (which, with its 8 minutes of Daft Punk-inspired house, may actually be my very favorite Savant track) only comes in the final minute. At that point, an incredible synth motif arrives on the scene… only to vanish thirty seconds later as the track comes to a close. I’m thankful for the thirty seconds I get, but I want more! Other than that, though, and perhaps the fact that these are both mere collections of (often excellent) individual tracks rather than coherent albums-as-such, I’m sold. Let more experienced listeners than I critique the production or sequencing.
We often speak of those who live with unusual conditions as “suffering from” something. I wouldn’t presume to speak to Vinter’s experience with savant syndrome; but I can most assuredly say that his listeners aren’t suffering. Certainly not from Cult and Heart, and not from the rest of Savant’s already-prodigious catalog. My brother frequently gloats over having “ruined my music taste.” If I get to listen to tracks like “Heart” and “Forbidden,” I’m content to have my tastes ruined.
EDIT 12/11/2013: BUT REALLY HE’S RELEASED ANOTHER 21-TRACK ALBUM SINCE I WROTE THIS. THE MAN IS CRAZY.
- Savant | [New] Orakel (Album Teaser) (rageronions.com)
- More Savant Love – Archive Mix (2009-2013) [Insert Genre Here] (rageronions.com)
- Savant Returns with Long Awaited, Transgenre Masterpiece ‘Cult’ (hangout.altsounds.com)
- Savant (fmgreviews.wordpress.com)
- AltSounds Exclusive Stream: Savant – Butterfly (hangout.altsounds.com)
- Savant Japan Bonus Tracks (dubspotting.wordpress.com)