Interno by Rf (Review)

Despite all of the processing and digitization, an incredible amount of organic warmth emanates from this album.
Interno - RF

If there’s one musical “thing” that has really been intriguing me lately, it’s the combination of electronic, acoustic, and organic elements within songs. Yes, a good deal of music these days has some combination of the three due to the ease of digital recording these days, use of effects pedals, and prevalence of programming applications, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to music that sets out to consciously combine those different sounds, where glitchwork coexists with acoustic guitars, strings with field recordings, vocals with cut-n-paste techniques.

Sometimes, it’s painfully obvious that the artist has no skill in mixing the different sounds, or just doesn’t go as far the process could be taken. I’ve heard numerous tracks that feature an acoustic guitar and hollow drum machine beat side by side. I realize that some just like the fact that they can DIY on the ol’ 4-track, but I’ve also heard artists who just slap on some wicked programming or environmental samples so as to sound cutting edge, experimental, or whatever.

RF, one of Ryan Francesconi’s several media projects, is quite the opposite. For an album that features a great deal of processing and digitization, there’s an incredible amount of organic warmth that emanates from nearly every track on the album. There are times when I honestly can’t tell where the glitches and computer trickery end and the “real” instruments begin. It certainly helps that many of his electronic sounds, whether they come from analog synths or Francesconi’s own music software, have a “glurpy” nature about them.

“Glurp” was a term coined by Robert Rich to describe the bubbling, organic sounds that flowed throughout his ambient music, evoking all sorts of biological and natural imagery. That same sort of sonic debris floats throughout Interno, breathing life into what might otherwise be lifeless studio creations. It’s the first and last thing you hear: sparse, summery field recordings complete with crickets, cicadas and other things you’d hear on a humid night in July. From the get-go, you know you’re not hearing another Neu! rehash or calculated studio jam.

Easy comparisons might be the kraut-jazz of Tortoise, or the effortless noodling of Stereolab, or even Hood’s pastoral glitch-hop. But Interno often displays a warmth and intimacy I only felt in small amounts from those bands. There’s a certain melancholy that flows right along with the “glurp,” and being the sort of person I am, I just naturally find myself attached to it. I can’t really imagine one of the aforementioned groups penning (or programming) a track like “Sunspot,” where a somber string arrangement emerges from a synth melody that sounds like faded photos look and an effects-tempered guitar plucked ever so delicately. There’s something elegiac about it, a solemnity that you rarely hear in electronic music.

The same goes for “Internal Notes 1,” which is about as solemn as the album the album gets. If I didn’t know better, I’d almost assume this was an outtake from Rachel’s The Sea and the Bells. It’s one of the few tracks that doesn’t feature any programming trickery, so despite being a fine song, it does stick out from the rest.

That’s not to suggest the whole album is a downbeat affair. The album’s best tracks float with an uncanny grace. “Sunday Park” finds billowing guitars and grainy keyboards providing a perfect bed for Pilar Diaz’ wordless “la la la la”-ing. “Difference” takes a slightly deeper, more obtuse approach. Complex (but never overwhelming) beats and reverbed guitars set up the rhythm. Though the track moves at a good clip, it never feels rushed. A lot of that has to do with Diaz’ vocals being rendered nigh-intangible, as if they were recorded on a cellphone just out of range. Or perhaps they’re just echoes reverberating throughout the satellite system, and somehow picked up during the recording process.

“Americana” takes a slower, more relaxed slant on some of the elements heard in “Difference.” The rhythms and programming seem oddly familiar. Diaz’ voice is replaced with what could be muted horns stretched beyond recognition (courtesy of Francesconi’s programming skills) and the recording of children playing and laughing. There’s a sense of contentedness and nostalgia (hence the title, perhaps) and the song as a whole recalls Do Make Say Think (possibly Francesconi’s truest peers).

“Internal Notes 4” takes a lonely guitar and slathers on the atmosphere, adding in lighter electronic elements here and there (analog bleeps, subtle vibes). Francesconi’s skills can be really seen here; the track is incredibly sparse, but the added elements are so vague they’re almost subconscious.

Indeed, that’s probably how I’d describe much of the album. Despite there being nearly 70 minutes, not one note, click of the mouse, or glitchy fragment feels unnecessary or out of place. This is mainly due to the subtlety that Francesconi exercises. You’ll rarely find yourself scratching your head and wondering how he got that sample or effect, or even thinking about any production aspects for that matter. Unlike a lot of electronic and post-rock music out there, which seem to be nothing more than cerebral exercises, Interno never loses its warmth or emotion. And that’s Francesconi’s greatest programming trick of all.

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