In his latest book, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, Cory Doctorow notes that the artist of the future will have to be more like a dandelion and less like a mammal. Rather than loving every single individual seed to death, the dandelion scatters its seeds widely and whatever takes root, takes root. It’s a metaphor for finding an audience in the internet era, but it is also a statement about creativity: Much better these days to work steadily and release frequently than to hold back until every single idea is full-grown and perfect.
Jan Platek is a musical dandelion. He’s always working on something new: a new idea, a new theme, a new release. In 2014 he gave the world almost thirty different releases under different monikers and shows no signs of slowing down.
He’s obviously a man of many musical interests and at some point all of these interests and influences come through his work. QUONS3T, his early band with Benjamin Stein and Martin Saalmann, were primarily acoustic with a folksy sound, and though he will deny it, fall very neatly into a distinctly familiar German sound. Imagine Amon Düül II or Faust playing acoustic western guitars and you will have a pretty good idea. His own solo project Eldriver allowed Mr. Platek to pursue still other interests. On songs like the beautiful “Illumination,” he began to merge his interest in slowcore, shoegaze and the more contemplative side of electronic keyboard music with the acoustic qualities of QUONS3T. Still, for whatever reason he found this vein of activity too limiting–or perhaps he thought it a dead end–and was quick to pursue still another direction.
With his latest project, We Deserve This, he’s rarefied his music completely of his often lovely and warm vocals to concentrate on instrumental post-rock. As a reward, he’s finally won some acclaim among reviewers and his music has made its way into anthologies from Post-Rock Essentials, The Death of a Modernist, and Deploy Your Senses, even leading his music to be listed as one of the Top 50 Post-Rock Releases of 2014.
It’s well-deserved. Even a casual listen will prove that Mr. Platek works very hard on his music. He has been trying for some time to find just the right outlet for all of his musical concerns and this may be it. The We Deserve This banner allows him to do many things that would have been out of place with QUONS3T or Eldriver. Where those projects were much more lyrical, We Deserve This as an instrumental project allows him to delve into his heavier interests in sludge and post-metal while still retaining that touch of lyricism from his sensitive and thoughtful Eldriver project.
The first full release, self-titled We Deserve This, is very hard-edged. Compiled from his Beta EP and four other singles, it’s almost relentless in its heaviness. Tempos are fast, volumes are loud, and every piece is dense, with little room to breathe. Mr. Platek sounds very excited on these songs, as if he had a new idea he was ready to ride all the way to hell. Listening to the album, one can just imagine him in the studio shouting, “Are you ready to rock?!” The tracks “Beta” and “Alpha” both rely upon a booming Deftones-like use of drums to anchor the interweaving guitar lines which, too, are thunderous. On other tracks like “Omega” one can briefly here the ghost of his former Eldriver persona and his love of electronics, but even these rely primarily upon driving guitar riffs and lead-footed percussion. The exception is “Dreizehn,” which takes the music in the direction I prefer. I love its changes to tempo and orchestration, with an edge that sounds very much like early Pelican. It’s easily my favorite track on the first EP. Though I like all the atmospheric sounds throughout the album, and I like the tracks individually, together as an album it borders on being too much of a good thing.
As with the eponymous album, the Diagonal EP is very hard-sounding as well, suffused with dark-toned riffs, cut through by bright multi-tracked leads, such as the song “Schritte am Horizont.” With the 20-minute EP Palindrom, however, Mr. Platek is obviously in a more playful mood. The opening track “I Am Suicide” begins with nature sounds and then a jungle scream before lurching into the music proper. Here Mr. Platek’s guitar work remains as heavy and riff-centered as ever, but the addition of keyboards adds another color to the palette. The change is welcome. It gives the album a kind of link to 80s synthpop, though without the specter of disco lurking in the backbeat. The beautiful closer, “Sehnsucht,” offers a glimpse of the direction he would later pursue on Nullinie and We Are Dead. Here the tempo is slightly slower, the orchestral color much, much softer than anything else in his previous releases, and the song opens up space between its phrases, giving the listener a chance to recover. It’s the song I wish had been in the middle of his first album to break up that work’s rather steady-state rhythms.
The other two tracks, “Hexagon” and “Avid Diva” (no doubt the “palindrome” of the album’s title) are somewhere between. “Hexagon” uses the found sound approach of the first track, opening with something that sounds like a musical box rusting shut. Then the onslaught begins anew. “Avid Diva” opens with solo keyboards, a color not often used in We Deserve This tracks. Its emotionalism hearkens back to the music of his other projects, Eldriver especially. The track itself even waits until about halfway through before introducing the lead guitar at all, letting it gradually come to the fore. It’s a lovely piece, and makes me wish Palindrom and We Deserve This had been merged.
At just over 30 minutes, Nullinie is closer to a full album than Palindrom. Combining his love of the dark-toned guitar with somber but brighter acoustic sounds, the title track unfolds as a gorgeous piece, dark yet not indulgent. The second track, “Traumreiter,” is the converse of the first. The guitar here is much brighter, as bright as anything from Explosions in the Sky, and its emotional tone moves the entire album away from the somber into the stoic. His use of dynamics on this album far outclasses anything else previously in the We Deserve This catalog. It’s as though he felt like listening to the music and reflecting with it, rather than driving with it, or letting it drive him. That driving tendency reappears on “When Every Change Is Black,” but even here he’s bridged the piece quite expertly with sections of bright-sounding keyboards and a quieter lead.
Overall, it remains one of his most satisfying releases, and obviously fans and critics agree. It’s not too hard to see why followers of the big names in post-rock especailly like the song “Trails,” which been featured on at least three different post-rock compilations. I suspect it’s because it has the familiar post-rock sound: with soft-loud sections in alternation, a certain use of crescendo to draw the listener in, a straightforward rhythm merged subtly with a tempo that restrains it–it is as good as anything from Caspian or This Will Destroy You.
The We Are Dead EP shows the full depth of his love of electronic music. The track “Two” especially recalls the bright sequenced sound of 90s synthpop. Its opening is announced completely without the guitar, giving the ear some time to acclimatize to the sound before throwing the listener headlong into the fray. The tracks on the Echolot release are similarly arranged: heavy on keyboards, heavy on guitar. Echolot, however, has a more delicate sound. Rather than a constant shredding of eighth notes with reverb, Mr. Platek here begins to leave much more breathing room between phrases. The result is a much more melodic sound, evident in the title track as well as the wonderfully evocative track “Play This At My Funeral, I’m Going to Die.”
We Are Dead and Echolot are the start of his new approach: integrating more fully the instruments, dividing sections more clearly, and not being afraid to let the music sing as well as shred. Here Mr. Platek has relaxed his earlier insistence on being heavy with bright accents. Rhythms slow down and tonal changes color his pieces in ways that are quite lovely. It’s clear he’s got Russian Circles out of his system by this time. The grooves, too, are more laidback and confident than those on the first album, where the mood is much more driven and insistent. Comparing the releases, We Deserve This is more like the morning rush; We Are Dead and Echolot are more like the afternoon drive home.
End Transmission is more like the evening. In many ways it is the album I’ve always wished he would make. All of Mr. Platek’s interests finally coalesce here. Acoustic guitar. Piano. Auxiliary percussion. Shoegaze. Whole notes, even. The range of colors and moods on this four-song release outstrips every other previous We Deserve This release. It’s a very subtle EP, moody, pensive, casual–quite unlike any other We Deserve This release, proving that his music can think and feel as well as rock out.
Released before End Transmission in December, the LP-length >Farewell is proof that he can and will rock mercilessly. After the electo-melodic diversions of Echolot and We Are Dead, Mr. Platek seems to have unplugged his keyboards completely to concentrate on the drone harmonies one associates with sludge and doom music, though here the tempo is mixed, more Mono than Sunn O))). Even the opening track “Pneumonia” with its emphasis on piano is heavy, heavy. There is a momentary bright sound on certain tracks, like the soaring sounds at the beginning of “Fragment” or the high tones of “In A Distant Future” but for the most part this is an album concentrating on densely layered guitar lines with reverberation as rich as any metal band’s. It is music for the pulse. More importantly, though, it is an album, a well-conceived collection of songs on a theme, not one of them out of place yet still diverse enough to sustain attention. It is his most coherent and strongest release so far, and sets a high level for his future music.
With a catalog like the one Jan Platek has amassed so far, one would have to be bold to predict what direction he will take next. That is as it should be. No one knows where a dandelion seed will sprout next. But it’s a guarantee that one will sprout somewhere interesting, breaking new ground and old alike. I look forward to seeing where Mr. Platek pops up next. I have no doubt that it will be interesting.